Eardrum (Tympanic Membrane) Perforation

Tympanic membrane perforation, also called perforated or ruptured eardrum, is a hole in the thin membrane that separates the ear canal from the middle ear.

Symptoms of Ear Drum Perforation

Depending on the size and location of the hole, a tympanic membrane perforation can cause several problems, including the following:

  • Conductive hearing loss (where sound does not reach the inner ear)
  • Ear drainage
  • Ear infections (when the rupture allows water to enter the middle ear) 

Causes of Ear Drum Perforation

A tympanic membrane perforation can have many causes. Sometimes frequent ear infections can cause pressure from pus to build up, which may produce a small hole in the membrane. In addition, injuries like cotton swab use can cause a perforation. Rarely, in people who have had tubes, a perforation can result when the eardrum does not close after the tube comes out.

Diagnosing an Ear Drum Perforation

To diagnose an ear drum perforation, your doctor may use several tests, including the following:

  • Audiometry exam: This hearing test checks how much hearing loss there is by measuring your response to sounds of various tones and intensities.
  • Otoscope: This instrument uses a light to view the ear canal.

It is important to keep the ear dry until the membrane is fixed. Avoid swimming and place a cotton ball soaked in petroleum ointment outside the ear canal when showering.

Treatments for Ear Drum Perforation

A new tympanic membrane perforation will usually heal itself. However, if the perforation has not gotten smaller in about two months, it will probably not heal on its own.

An otologist can help you choose the best treatment plan for you. In most cases, we recommend fixing tympanic membrane perforations, especially if you are experiencing hearing loss or ear infections.

Repairing a tympanic membrane perforation involves minor surgery. This routine outpatient procedure generally takes a couple of hours. Our surgeons make a cut inside the ear canal or behind the ear. The eardrum is then lifted. A material (possibly a piece of cartilage, fascia or muscle lining, or synthetic materials) is used to patch the hole. The eardrum is folded back down, and some dissolvable packing is placed in the ear canal.

Why Choose Columbia

Surgeons at Columbia are pioneering a new technique called endoscopic ear surgery for repairing tympanic membrane perforations. In some situations, this can mean repairing the hole entirely through the ear canal without making any visible incisions. This may result in faster healing and less pain.