If you have recently been for a hearing test in Livingston, you may have heard the term ‘tympanic membrane’ used during your appointment. In this article, we explain what the tympanic membrane is and how to identify problems with your eardrum.

What is the tympanic membrane, or eardrum?

Commonly known as the eardrum, the tympanic membrane stands between the outer and middle ear. This cone-shaped membrane is made of thin connective tissue with skin on the outside and mucosa on its inner surface. Its purpose is to transmit sound – when sound waves reach the tympanic membrane they make it vibrate and these vibrations then travel through the tiny bones of the middle ear and on to the inner ear.

The tympanic membrane

What is a perforated eardrum?

A perforated, or ruptured, eardrum is a relatively common and painful problem that can result in temporary hearing loss. Put simply, having a perforated eardrum means that a hole or tear has appeared in the tympanic membrane. While a perforated eardrum can heal naturally over the course of a few weeks, those experiencing the below symptoms should seek help from a hearing specialist so that the exact issue can be diagnosed and treated if necessary.

What are the symptoms of a perforated tympanic membrane?

If you are suffering from a perforated eardrum, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

– Earache, or a sudden pain in your ear that may resolve quickly

– Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear)

– Vertigo

– Hearing loss (this may be complete in the affected ear, or your hearing might just be muffled)

– Fluid leaking from the ear

– Itching in the ear

– A high temperature

What can damage the tympanic membrane?

There are several common causes of a perforated eardrum. These include:

A middle ear infection (otitis media):

Middle ear infections can cause fluids to accumulate in the middle ear and the pressure of this fluid build-up can cause the tympanic membrane to rupture.


Barotrauma happens when a difference in air pressure between the middle ear and external environment puts stress on the eardrum. This most often happens when travelling on an aeroplane. If the pressure difference is severe, the eardrum can rupture. Some steps can be taken while flying to avoid this, including using pressure-equalising earplugs, or chewing gum or yawning while taking off and landing.

Loud sounds (acoustic trauma):

A loud sound, or a blast from an explosion or gunshot, can sometimes cause a tear in the tympanic membrane. For this reason, it is important to use adequate ear protection when working in a noisy environment, or when enjoying hobbies such as game hunting or clay pigeon shooting.

Damage caused by foreign objects:

When small objects are inserted into the ear they can easily damage the tympanic membrane. It isn’t uncommon for people to accidentally rupture an eardrum while attempting to remove ear wax using a cotton bud, or a sharper implement. For this reason, you shouldn’t try to remove ear wax by yourself at home. Your local hearing clinic will be able to offer safer and more effective methods of ear wax removal, such as micro suction.

What should I do if I think I may have damaged my eardrum?

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from a perforated eardrum and would like more information on what the tympanic membrane is, the first step is to get in contact with a hearing specialist. Based in Livingston and serving West Lothian and the surrounding areas, Almond Hearing boasts a small team of friendly and highly-knowledgeable audiologists. Get in touch today, or view our other services including hearing tests, hearing aids and wax removal.