A perforated or burst eardrum is a hole in the eardrum. It'll usually heal within a few weeks and might not need any treatment.
But it's a good idea to see your GP if you think your eardrum has burst, as it can cause problems such as ear infections.
Symptoms of a perforated eardrum
Signs of a perforated eardrum, or an ear infection caused by a perforated eardrum, include:
- sudden hearing loss – difficult to hear anything or slightly muffled hearing
- earache or pain in your ear
- itching in your ear
- clear or bloody fluid leaking from your ear
- a high temperature
- ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus)
The symptoms will usually pass when your eardrum has healed or any infection has been treated.
When to contact your GP
Talk to your GP if:
- you think you have a perforated eardrum
- your symptoms are not any better after a few weeks
- you get new symptoms such as earache, a fever, itching or fluid leaking from your ear
Your eardrum will usually heal without treatment. But a GP can check for an infection, which may need treatment. They will talk to you about how you can look after your ear.
They'll look into your ear using a small handheld torch with a magnifying lens. This should not hurt.
Things you can do if you have a perforated eardrum
Perforated eardrums do not always need to be treated. They often get better by themselves within a few weeks.
You can help relieve your symptoms by:
- not putting anything in your ear, such as cotton buds or eardrops (unless your GP recommends them)
- not getting water in your ear – do not go swimming and be extra careful when showering or washing your hair
- not blowing your nose too hard, as this can damage your eardrum as it heals
- holding a warm flannel against your ear to help reduce any pain
- taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain if you need to - do not give aspirin to children under 16
Doing these things may reduce the chances of your ear becoming infected.
Treatments for a perforated eardrum
If you have an ear infection caused by a perforated eardrum, your GP may prescribe antibiotics.
If the hole in your eardrum is big, or does not heal in a few weeks, your GP may refer you to an ear specialist. They will talk to you about having surgery to repair the perforated eardrum.
Causes of a perforated eardrum
A hole in the eardrum can be caused by:
- an ear infection
- an injury to the eardrum, such as a blow to your ear or putting an object like a cotton bud deep into your ear
- changes in pressure, such as while flying or scuba diving
- a sudden loud noise, such as an explosion
Preventing a perforated eardrum
Tips to avoid damaging your eardrum:
- contact your GP for treatment if you have symptoms of an ear infection for more than 2 or 3 days
- do not push anything deep into your ears, including your fingers
- do not use cotton buds to clean your ears
- wear suitable ear protection if you're often exposed to loud noises
- when flying, try swallowing, yawning, chewing gum or sucking on a boiled sweet during take-off and landing
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE