The correct name for the ear drum is the tympanic membrane. It is a thin, circular layer of tissue that separates the middle ear from the external part of the ear. Its main function is to protect the middle and inner ear from bacteria or foreign objects.
A hole or tear in the eardrum is known as a perforation. It can be painful but will usually heals on its own within a few weeks.
These can vary greatly. One of the most common causes of a perforated eardrum is infection. Another common cause is the use of cotton buds or other instruments to attempt to remove ear wax. Extremely loud noises may also perforate the ear drum.
Common symptoms are pain and hearing loss. The amount of hearing loss is relative to the size of the hole in the tympanic membrane. It returns once the hole has healed. The risk of infection is greatly increased and symptoms of infection may also be apparent.
A doctor or ENT specialist can usually diagnose a perforated ear drum by looking in the ear using a special torch called an otoscope. Other tests may be carried out to determine the degree of injury, for example, a hearing test or laboratory tests.
Most holes are small enough to heal by themselves within 8 weeks. Painkillers such as Ibuprofen and Paracetomol can help ease the pain. You may be prescribed antibiotics if you also have an ear infection, or are at risk of developing one. In extreme cases surgery may be required to repair the eardrum. It is not advisable to get the ear wet.
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