Ruptured Eardrum, Traumatic

The eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane) is a thin membrane about 1 inch from the opening of the ear canal. It's easily injured by foreign objects put into the ear canal. It may also be harmed by very loud noises close to the ear such as a gunshot, or a powerful slap to the ear. And it can be injured by trauma to the head or ear.

A burst (ruptured) eardrum can occur from pressure changes caused by a blast or explosion, flying, scuba diving, or driving in the mountains. Inserting cotton swabs or small objects can also rupture the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum will cause pain. There may be clear or bloody drainage. A buzzing sound may be heard in the ear. In severe cases, you may get dizzy or feel like you are spinning. Some hearing may be lost in the affected ear.

The goal is to keep the ear dry and clean until the eardrum heals. Antibiotics may be prescribed if infection is present. Follow-up with ear and hearing specialists is advised. In many cases, hearing returns to normal after the eardrum heals. But surgery is needed in severe cases.

Home care

  • Keep your ear dry. Ask your healthcare provider what to use to prevent your eardrum from becoming wet when taking a shower or bath.

  • Don't use eardrops unless prescribed by the healthcare provider.

  • Don't get water in your ear when showering or bathing. No swimming until approved by your provider.

  • No air travel or diving until approved by your provider.

  • Take any prescription or over-the-counter medicines as advised.

Follow-up care

Follow up with specialists for test or exams as directed. A hearing test should be done soon after the injury. Also follow up within 2 weeks, or as directed by your healthcare provider, to check healing of the eardrum.

When to get medical advice

Call the healthcare provider if any of these occur:

  • Fever in children (see Fever and children, below)

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) in adults

  • Fluid drainage from the ear for longer than 24 hours

  • More ear pain

  • Worsening headache or dizziness

  • Worsening hearing loss

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell