What Causes a Ruptured Eardrum?

A ruptured eardrum, also known as a tympanic membrane perforation, can occur for various reasons. The eardrum is a thin, delicate membrane that separates the ear canal from the middle ear, and it can be damaged by different factors. Common causes of a ruptured eardrum include:

  • Ear Infections: Acute or chronic ear infections, particularly otitis media, can lead to the accumulation of fluid and pressure in the middle ear. This pressure can cause the eardrum to rupture. The infection may also cause pain, drainage from the ear, and hearing loss.
  • Barotrauma: Sudden and significant changes in air pressure, such as during scuba diving, flying in an airplane, or being near a loud explosion, can cause barotrauma. The rapid pressure changes can damage the eardrum and the middle ear.
  • Trauma or Injury: Direct trauma or injury to the ear, such as a blow to the ear, insertion of objects into the ear canal (like cotton swabs or hairpins), or accidents, can cause a ruptured eardrum.
  • Loud Sounds: Extremely loud noises, like a nearby explosion or gunfire, can rupture the eardrum.
  • Sudden Changes in Air Pressure: In some cases, rapid changes in air pressure, such as from a nearby explosion or a blast wave, can lead to a ruptured eardrum.
  • Earwax Removal: Inserting objects into the ear canal in an attempt to clean or remove earwax can cause injury to the eardrum. It’s essential to avoid inserting anything into the ear canal.
  • Ear Surgery: Some medical procedures, like ear tube placement to treat chronic ear infections or chronic otitis media, can result in a ruptured eardrum.
  • Foreign Objects: Insertion of foreign objects into the ear canal can damage the eardrum if done improperly or accidentally.
  • Infection in the Ear Canal: Infections in the ear canal, such as swimmer’s ear (otitis externa), can sometimes lead to a ruptured eardrum if left untreated.
  • Chemical Irritation: Exposure to certain chemicals or medications (e.g., drops containing strong acids or bases) can damage the eardrum if they come into contact with the ear canal.

A ruptured eardrum can lead to symptoms such as ear pain, hearing loss, drainage from the ear, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and sometimes dizziness or vertigo. In most cases, a ruptured eardrum will heal on its own over time. However, it’s crucial to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and guidance on how to care for the injury. In some cases, surgical repair may be necessary if the eardrum doesn’t heal properly or if there is a significant loss of hearing.