Perforated eardrum


Perforated eardrum
Perforated eardrum

A perforated (burst) eardrum is a hole or tear in your eardrum. It'll usually gets better on its own within 2 months, but you may need treatment such as antibiotics.

Check if you have a perforated eardrum

Symptoms of a perforated eardrum usually start suddenly after an:

  • ear infection
  • injury (such as getting hit on your ear)
  • loud noise
  • sudden change in air pressure (such as flying on a plane)

Most of the time symptoms affect 1 ear and include:

  • hearing loss
  • a ringing or buzzing sound in your ear (tinnitus)
  • earache or ear pain
  • itching in your ear
  • clear fluid, blood or pus leaking from your ear
  • feeling dizzy
  • a high temperature

If you're not sure if it's a perforated eardrum, find out about other conditions that can cause earachehearing loss or tinnitus.

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 Wales if:

  • you have sudden hearing loss in 1 or both ears
  • your hearing has been getting worse over the last few days or weeks
  • you have hearing loss along with other symptoms, such as earache or discharge coming out of the ear

It might not be anything serious, but it's best to get help as it may need to be treated quickly.

Treatment for a perforated eardrum

A perforated eardrum usually gets better on its own within 2 months and your hearing returns to normal.

A GP may prescribe antibiotics if you have an ear infection, or to stop you getting an ear infection while your eardrum heals.

Sometimes, surgery to repair the eardrum (myringoplasty) may be needed if the eardrum is not healing by itself.


Go back to your GP if your symptoms have not started to improve after a few weeks.

More information

Find out more about myringoplasty surgery on the ENT UK website

Things you can do if you have a perforated eardrum

There are some things you can do to help heal a perforated eardrum and ease symptoms.


  • take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease any pain
  • put a large piece of cotton wool covered in petroleum jelly in your outer ear when you wash your hair to stop water getting in


  • do not go swimming or get your ear wet until your eardrum heals
  • do not put anything inside your ear, such as cotton buds or eardrops (unless a doctor recommends them)
  • try not to blow your nose too hard because this can damage your eardrum as it heals

Flying with a perforated eardrum

It's safe to fly if you have a perforated eardrum. But if you've had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum (myringoplasty), do not fly until you're told it's safe to.


You may need surgery to repair your perforated eardrum if the hole in your eardrum is large or doesn't heal in a few weeks

The type of operation you'll have is called a myringoplasty.

What happens during surgery for a perforated eardrum

Surgery to repair a burst eardrum is usually carried out in hospital under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep).

During the procedure:

  • a small cut is made just in front or behind your ear and a small piece of tissue is removed from under your skin – this will leave a small scar, which will usually be covered by your hair
  • small surgical instruments are used to patch the hole in your eardrum with this piece of tissue – this may be done through your ear opening, or through a small cut made next to your ear
  • a dressing is placed in your ear to hold the patch in place and stop water and germs getting in – this usually stays in place for about two or three weeks
  • cotton wool padding is put over your ear and held in place with a bandage
  • the cut(s) in your skin are closed with stitches

Most people can go home on the same day or the day after the operation.

Recovering from surgery for a perforated eardrum

It usually takes a few weeks for your eardrum to heal.

A follow-up appointment for about two or three weeks after your operation will be arranged before or soon after leaving hospital.

Looking after yourself

After the operation:

  • make sure someone stays with you for the first 24 hours – don't drive or drink alcohol during this time
  • change the cotton wool in your ear every day (but leave the dressing that's deeper in your ear in place)
  • avoid getting your ear wet – place cotton wool covered in petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) in your ear when showering
  • you may need to stay off work (or school) for about a week – you might be off for longer if your job involves lots of moving or bending over
  • after about a week, speak to your GP surgery about getting your stitches removed (if they don't dissolve by themselves)

Activities to avoid

Until you've had your follow-up appointment, avoid:

  • flying 
  • swimming
  • smoking
  • close contact with sick people – you could pick up an ear infection
  • sports and other strenuous activities
  • blowing your nose too hard – if you need to sneeze, try to keep your mouth open to reduce the pressure in your ear

Your doctor or nurse will advise you when to return to normal activities.

When to get medical advice

It's normal to have some discomfort, dizziness, unusual noises in your ear and a little bleeding for the first few days after surgery.

Contact the hospital or your GP if:

  • you have lots of fluid or blood coming from your ear, particularly if the fluid smells bad
  • you have pain that's severe and isn't relieved with painkillers
  • you feel very dizzy or the dizziness doesn't improve in a few days
  • your ear is red, swollen and itchy

Risks of surgery for a perforated eardrum

Surgery to repair a perforated eardrum doesn't usually cause any serious problems.

But possible risks include:

  • a wound infection, which can cause pain, bleeding and leaking of fluid – contact the hospital or your GP if you have these symptoms
  • ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus) – this usually improves in time, but can sometimes be permanent
  • changes in taste – these are usually temporary, but can occasionally be permanent
  • worse hearing or hearing loss – although permanent hearing loss is rare
  • inability to move muscles in part of the face – this may get better over time, but can be permanent in rare cases

Before you have surgery, talk to your surgeon about the possible benefits and risks of the operation.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 12/06/2024 15:18:38