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Overview - Perforated eardrum

A perforated or burst eardrum is a hole in the eardrum. It'll usually heal within a few weeks and might not need any treatment.

But it's a good idea to see a GP if you think your eardrum has burst, as it can cause problems such as ear infections.

Symptoms of a perforated eardrum

Signs of a perforated eardrum, or an ear infection caused by a perforated eardrum, 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
  • ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus)

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

When to see a GP

See a GP if:

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

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

They'll look into your ear using a small handheld torch with a magnifying lens. The tip of this goes into your ear, but it only goes in a little way and should not hurt.

Things you can do if you have a perforated eardrum

Perforated eardrums do not 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:

  • do not put anything in your ear, such as cotton buds or eardrops (unless a doctor recommends them)
  • do not get water in your ear – do not 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 (do not give aspirin to children under 16)

Treatments for a perforated eardrum

If you have an ear infection caused by a perforated eardrum, a GP may prescribe antibiotics.

If the hole in your eardrum is big, or does not heal in a few weeks, the 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 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 a GP for treatment if you have symptoms of an ear infection for more than 2 or 3 days
  • do not 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

Page last reviewed: 11 February 2020
Next review due: 11 February 2023