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What is a Ruptured Eardrum?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A ruptured eardrum, also referred to as a pierced eardrum, is an eardrum that has a hole or tear in it. This type of ear problem can make ear infections much more likely to occur. Sometimes people with ruptured eardrums also develop slight hearing loss as result of the rupture. Most of the time a ruptured eardrum will correct itself, but it could take a few weeks before the eardrum is completely back to normal. If the eardrum doesn't repair itself, surgery might become necessary.

Most people who have ruptured eardrums complain of severe ear pain along with ringing in the ears, dizziness, and ear discharge, which might be either clear or bloody. Nausea is also a common side effect of a ruptured eardrum and is most likely the result of a loss of equilibrium, which might also cause the dizziness. There are several things that can cause an eardrum to rupture, including incredibly loud sounds, pressure from too much drainage inside the ear, and items inside the ear such as bobby pins or Q-tips, which people often use to clean their ears. A ruptured eardrum might also be the result of a drastic change in air pressure, similar to what people experience when they fly on airplanes.

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If a ruptured eardrum is suspected, a doctor's visit is usually advisable. Doctors can often determine whether an eardrum has ruptured by conducting several tests, including hearing tests and laboratory tests on ear discharge and drainage. In most cases, doctors tell patients with ruptured eardrums to wait a few weeks and see if the tear or hole in the ear closes back up on its own. If the patient comes back in a few weeks and the rupture is still present, further treatment is typically necessary.

Most doctors will attempt to treat a ruptured eardrum with a paper patch that is sealed over the hole in the eardrum. Doctors can apply a type of chemical to the eardrum to encourage the hole to close up on its own. If the eardrum patch proves ineffective, outpatient surgery to close the hole is often performed. During surgery, doctors usually remove a small amount of the patient's skin from another part of the body and graft the skin over the hole in the eardrum. Most patients have no difficulty with the procedure, and it typically corrects the rupture in the ear with no further problems.

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