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Perforated eardrum

Find out about a perforated (burst) eardrum, including what the symptoms are, what to do if you think you have it, and how it can be treated.

A perforated or burst eardrum is a hole in the eardrum. It will 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.

This page covers:

Symptoms

When to see your GP

Treatments and surgery

Causes

Symptoms of a perforated eardrum

Signs of a perforated eardrum or ear infection include:

  • sudden hearing loss – you may find it difficult to hear anything or your hearing may just be slightly muffled
  • earache or pain in your ear
  • itching in your ear
  • fluid leaking from your ear
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus)

The symptoms will usually pass once your eardrum has healed and any infection has been treated.

When to see your GP

See your GP if:

  • you think you have a perforated eardrum
  • you've already seen your GP and your symptoms aren't any better after a few weeks or you get new symptoms (such as earache, a fever, itching or fluid leaking from the ear)

Your eardrum will usually heal without treatment, but your GP can check for an infection (which may need treatment) and talk to you about how you can look after your ear.

Your GP will look into your ear using a small, hand-held torch with a magnifying lens. The tip of this goes into your ear, but it only goes in a little way and shouldn't hurt.

Treatments for a perforated eardrum

Perforated eardrums don't always need to be treated because they often get better by themselves within a few weeks.

While it heals, the following tips can help you relieve your symptoms and reduce the chances of your ear becoming infected:

  • don't put anything in your ear, such as cotton buds or eardrops (unless your doctor recommends them)
  • don't get water in your ear – don't go swimming and be extra careful when showering or washing your hair
  • try not to blow your nose too hard, as this can damage your eardrum as it heals
  • hold a warm flannel against your ear to help reduce any pain
  • take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain if you need to (don't give aspirin to children under 16)

If you have an ear infection, your GP may prescribe antibiotics.

If the hole in your eardrum is big or doesn't heal in a few weeks, your GP may refer you to an ear specialist to talk about having surgery to repair a 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 poking an object like a cotton bud deep into your ear
  • changes in air pressure, such as while flying or scuba diving
  • a sudden loud noise, such as an explosion

The following tips may help you avoid damaging your eardrum:

  • see your GP for treatment if you have symptoms of an ear infection for more than two or three days
  • don't push anything deep into your ears, including your fingers
  • 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

Find out more about flying if you have a perforated eardrum.

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