Cracked eardrum – Symptoms, causes and treatment

A cracked eardrum can occur for a number of reasons, such as pressure and external force against the ear. In most cases, a cracked eardrum heals on its own without any future impact on the hearing.

The ear is a complex part of the body where several different parts work together to receive, interpret and transmit the vibrations that are our sound impressions. When something causes the eardrum to burst, you can experience several different disorders in the affected ear. A cracked eardrum is often a smaller hole or a smaller tear in the tissue that separates the eardrum from the inner parts of the ear.

Symptoms of a cracked eardrum

The typical symptoms of a cracked eardrum are:

  • Severe ear pain
  • Ears are blocked
  • Impaired hearing
  • Ringing in the ears

In some cases, you also experience nausea and dizziness. If an eardrum breaks down in conjunction with ear inflammation, the pain from the inflammation may disappear as the eardrum bursts. It may feel like the pressure is disappearing from the ear.

Why does the eardrum crack?

Some common reasons for getting a cracked eardrum are:

  • Compression pressure on air travel (so-called barotrauma)
  • Sudden pressure, for example during explosions or deep diving
  • Stroke or damage to or around the ear
  • Teasing in the ear
  • Objects in the ear canal
  • As a complication of ear inflammation

About the eardrum and its location in the ear

The hearing consists of vibrations, so-called sound waves. The ear is usually divided into three different parts: outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The outer ear is the parts of the ear that we see on the outside and the ear canal. The eardrum is found in the middle ear, a few centimeters from the opening of the auditory canal, along with three small bones called the auditory bones.

Sound coming into the middle ear hits the eardrum, which begins to vibrate. The middle ear’s legs start to move and send the vibrations to the inner ear. In the inner ear, the vibrations turn into nerve impulses that then pass on to the brain through the auditory nerve.

Prevention

A typical situation where you risk getting a cracked eardrum is when taking off and landing with aircraft. If you feel that the pressure starts to build up, you can hold your nose and then try to squeeze out air. Another thing you can do is chew gum during the flight. There are also nasal drops with a so-called mucosal swelling effect that can prevent ear pain.

When diving you need to be careful when going up and down and if you have a sniff due to cold or allergy. Use hearing protection if you are exposed to excessive pressure from sound. Avoid piercing the ear with your fingers as it can interfere with the ear’s natural cleaning process and cause bacteria to enter the ear canal.

Treatment of a cracked eardrum

A cracked eardrum usually heals itself within a few weeks. In exceptional cases, surgery may be needed to correct the inconvenience. You usually go for recurring medical exams until the cracked eardrum becomes full again.

When you have a cracked eardrum, you should avoid getting fluid into your ear. Do not bathe or flush your ears. Sometimes you need to treat a cracked eardrum with antibiotics and cortisone to avoid inflammation.

When should you seek care?

You should seek care for your ear problems:

  • In case of suspected cracked eardrum
  • In the case of a wax plug that has not come loose after using wax solvents
  • If fluid flows out of the ear
  • If the pain from the ear has not subsided within a few days of antibiotic treatment of the ear

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