Tympanic membrane perforation is the medical term for a ruptured eardrum. When the membrane is torn or punctured, a person may experience hearing loss, a ringing or a buzzing sensation, head pain, and nausea. Symptoms are usually bearable and temporary, and most ruptured eardrums heal on their own in about two weeks with simple home care techniques. In some cases, however, surgery is required to repair a tympanic membrane perforation that fails to heal or causes severe pain. Doctors can advise their patients on preventive measures following treatment to ensure they do not experience problems in the future.
The eardrum is a relatively delicate membrane that separates the outer ear from the tiny bones and canals of the middle ear. It aids in sound perception and protects the inner structures from water, dirt, and infectious pathogens. A tympanic membrane perforation can occur if a foreign object, such as a cotton swab, is inserted too far into the ear. Ruptures may also result from exposure to loud noises such as gunshots or sudden changes in pressure, as occurs when ascending in an airplane or diving into deep water. Chronic or frequently occurring ear infections can lead to eardrum ruptures because the membrane is constantly irritated, inflamed, and stretched thin.
A person is likely to experience sudden, sharp pain as a tympanic membrane perforation occurs. His or her head may pound for several minutes or hours after the event, and tinnitus and hearing loss are common. Some people experience dizzy spells and bouts of nausea following eardrum ruptures. Bacteria can collect inside the ear and cause infection over the course of several days, and it is common for blood and clear or yellow pus to drain from the ear.
Most tympanic membrane perforations do not require professional medical care. It is generally a good idea to visit a doctor, however, when ear pain and other symptoms appear to make sure major damage has not occurred. A physician can inspect the membrane with a lighted magnifying device to confirm a rupture and check for signs of infection. If the ear is indeed infected, he or she can prescribe antibiotic drops and explain how to best treat the condition at home.
An individual with a tympanic membrane perforation should be careful to keep his or her ear clean and dry throughout the healing phase. An over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug can help to relieve associated aches and pains. If a ruptured eardrum does not heal after about two weeks, the doctor may decide to schedule a surgical procedure to fix it. During a simple outpatient operation, the membrane can be patched with a synthetic paper material or a skin graft to close the hole. Most patients who require surgery are able to fully recover within a few weeks.