An eardrum perforation (tear or hole) can result from a variety of causes, including trauma (e.g. Q-tips), rapid pressure changes with diving or flying, infection, and previous surgery (e.g. Q-tips).
What problems can an eardrum perforation cause?
Eardrum perforations can cause a variety of problems, depending on the perforation’s size, location on the eardrum, and association with other ear disease. Most commonly, the perforation causes some degree of hearing impairment. The perforation can also lead to infections of the ear by allowing water to enter and contaminate the middle ear (space under the eardrum). In some cases, the perforation can allow skin, which normally lines the outer layer of the eardrum, to grow into the middle ear space, leading to an enlarging “cyst” under the eardrum called a cholesteatoma.
How is an eardrum perforation treated?
First, a thorough examination by the ENT physician as well as a hearing test will be performed. If the perforation is new, then efforts first focus on identifying and treating the potential cause of the perforation, such as ongoing infection. Many new eardrum perforations will heal on their own, so you and your ENT physician may opt for a period of observation. Chronic or longstanding eardrum perforations are not likely to heal on their own, and a procedure or surgery may be recommended to repair the eardrum.