A perforated eardrum is a hole or tear in the eardrum. It can be uncomfortable, but usually heals on its own without treatment within two months.

The eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane, is a thin layer of tissue that separates the outer ear from the middle ear.

If you have a perforated eardrum, your hearing is likely to be affected and you will have earache. Any hearing loss is usually temporary.

Read more about the symptoms of a perforated eardrum.

There are several possible causes of a perforated eardrum, the most common being an infection of the middle ear. It can also be caused by a loud noise or injury to the ear.

When to get medical help

See your GP if you have pain or discomfort in your ear for more than a couple of days.

Your GP will use a special instrument called an auriscope or otoscope to examine your eardrum.

An auriscope has a light and a lens that allows your GP to examine the inside of your ear. If you have a perforated eardrum, your GP will be able to see a hole or tear in the eardrum.

Treating a perforated eardrum

Most cases do not need treatment and your perforated eardrum should heal itself within a couple of months. Painkillers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, should ease any pain or discomfort. Avoid getting your ear wet while it heals.  

Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if an infection is the cause of your perforated eardrum or you are at risk of infection.

Surgery to repair the eardrum (myringoplasty) may be necessary in severe cases or if your eardrum doesn't heal.

Read more about treating a perforated eardrum.

Complications associated with myringoplasty are rare, but may include infection, hearing loss or dizziness.

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What does the eardrum do?

The eardrum helps you to hear. Sound waves enter the ear and make the eardrum vibrate. The vibrations from the eardrum pass through the small bones (ossicles) inside the middle ear. The ossicles amplify the vibrations and pass them on to the inner ear.

The cochlea in the inner ear contains tiny hair cells that move in response to the vibrations passed from the middle ear. The movement of the hair cells generates an electrical signal that is transmitted to the brain along the auditory nerve.

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2013

Next review due: 12/03/2015