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What is a Retracted Eardrum?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

A retracted eardrum occurs when a person's eardrum, or tympanic membrane, gets sucked or pulled into the space behind it. This happens when the pressure in this space, known as the middle ear, is too low. Infections usually cause this ear problem, but a quick change in outside air pressure can also cause the pressure inside of a person's ear to drop rapidly, possibly causing a retracted eardrum.

The tympanic membrane is more commonly referred to as the eardrum, and it is a very thin, flexible membrane. It is located between the outer ear canal and the middle ear. A thin tube, known as the eustachian tube, connects the middle ear to a person's nose and throat and helps maintain the proper pressure in the middle ear, relative to the outside pressure. When this tube is blocked, the pressure in a person's ear gets too low, creating a vacuum.

Increased hearing sensitivity is a sign of a retracted eardrum, which causes one to hear sounds louder than they are.
Increased hearing sensitivity is a sign of a retracted eardrum, which causes one to hear sounds louder than they are.

Infection is considered to be the main cause of a blocked eustachian tube. During many ear infections, fluid will build up in either the inner or middle ear. This fluid will sometimes block the opening to the eustachian tube in the ear. Air from the outside of the ear can not get into the middle ear, causing the negative pressure that can create a retracted eardrum. Although it can happen in adults, retracted eardrums occur more often in children, especially those who get recurring ear infections.

One of the main symptoms of this condition is increased hearing sensitivity. A person with a retracted eardrum often hears most sounds louder than they really are. Pain may also be present.

Pain may be present with a retracted eardrum.
Pain may be present with a retracted eardrum.

To diagnose a retracted eardrum, or any other ear infection, a doctor can look into a person's ear with an otoscope. By looking through this tool, he can see whether an eardrum is inflamed, bulged out, or retracted. Many times, a retracted eardrum is not considered very serious. Treatment may not be necessary, as the eustachian tube may become clear on its own.

Ear pain may be a sign of a retracted eardrum.
Ear pain may be a sign of a retracted eardrum.

In more serious cases, however, a physician may refer a patient to a otolaryngologist, which is a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat problems. These doctors may recommend that patients perform something called a valsalva maneuver. This maneuver can increase the pressure in the middle ear, which will often help the eardrum return to its natural position. To do this, a patient is instructed to hold his breath by plugging his nose and closing his mouth while trying to force air out at the same time. Sometimes decongestants are recommended to drain any mucus away from the eustachian tube.

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Discussion Comments


I had a retracted eardrum and tried multiple antibiotics, steroid nasal sprays, Epley Maneuvers and the like, like the Valsalva Maneuver, methylprednisone, and the only thing that finally did it, was an ear tube. What a difference!


I had a severe ear infection, and took cortecosteroid nasal spray called Momeflo for 15 days twice daily. It did relieve my symptoms, but I was back to square one after 10 days.

I inhaled a lot of steam for 10-15 minutes three to four times every day, breathing in from my nose and breathing out from my mouth, and it helped a lot in draining the liquid out and I felt much better in a few days.

However, since nothing has helped lately, my ENT prescribed Otek-ac ear drops. I put two drops in thrice every day, and in about a week, my infection went away completely.

So take Otek ac ear drops if ever you have an ear infection, and you will not need anything else. Also, take steam.

I did a stupid thing, though. Since the middle ear infection was really bothering me, I tried to clean my left ear with a cotton bud, and I pushed my eardrum inside a bit.

Every morning when I wake up now, I have a feeling of a slight bit of heaviness in my left ear, and when I continuously try to pop my ear, I feel my ear getting back to normal after some time. I don't know what to do about it.


I just had to get my eardrum and hearing bones reconstructed four months ago because my eardrum was retracted for so long! I'm doing well, now. My ENT first tried a tube to pop it out but after four months, it didn't work. He said when he went to take it off the bones, it ripped and tore! I'm glad I got it done! It was outpatient and not too painful.


This is very scary. I have been congested for six weeks and have been to the doctor repeatedly and have seen an ENT. Two different medical professionals mentioned the retracted eardrum, almost in passing, and I wasn't told it was anything to worry about.

I am a music teacher so obviously I am very worried about this now that I've done some research. What should I do to prevent it from getting worse? I was finally put on an antibiotic, but I'm afraid it is too late. Should I see another ENT immediately? Thank you! --Singer in Omaha


I have had a retracted ear drum on the left side for one year. It started suddenly during a respiratory virus. The virus went away but my ear still seemed blocked. I saw an ENT who said I had fluid behind the ear drum. He said it takes months for this condition to get better, and to come back and see him in a few months if it didn't go away.

I also have some mild sinus symptoms only on the left side, occasional mild congestion and post nasal drip only on the left side. So something is going on with the left. After about five months, my hearing was still blocked. I had a hearing test when I saw the ENT and found out I had hearing loss on the left. I knew that. My insurance changed so I saw a different ENT. He ordered another hearing test. He said I had Eustachian tube dysfunction, no longer had fluid behind my ear drum, and the test showed hearing loss on the left, which I knew. He said I had a retracted ear drum.

He did the valsalva maneuver in his office. My ear did not pop. The hearing did seem slightly improved after that, though. I went back to see him a couple of months later. He did the valsalva maneuver again, but there was no effect. He did both sides and my left sinus started draining and got congested and has been worse ever since. I saw him a third time, and he said eventually the condition would probably get better He also said my symptoms were probably just normal hearing loss from aging, but I know it's not. It happened overnight during the virus I had. He said people's hearing gradually goes away but then they notice it all of a sudden and think it just happened. Yeah, right. I didn't notice 25 percent hearing loss in my left ear and then all of a sudden I did. One day I could hear people standing behind me at work who were talking to me and the next day it sounded like they were far away and not talking to me, even though they were standing right there. No way. It was a viral infection and my ear clogged up, but it never went back to normal and my sinuses have something going on with that side.

I am just really depressed. I have read everything on the web I can find and after reading a lot of stuff, I regretfully conclude that there is no treatment for this and it will be permanent if it doesn't go away on its own or if the valsalva maneuver doesn't fix it, and that hasn't happened. I wish I was wrong. I wish there was something I could do, I would do it. But it seems to be hopeless and worse than hopeless from what I read. The longer you have it, the worse it gets, and over time it affects the bones in the ear, causing permanent hearing damage and it causes adhesions. I feel so bad that nothing can be done to stop this from happening.


I've had otitis media for six weeks now and had five lots of antibiotics and none of them have helped. I've been given nasal drops and ear drops, and still no help. This is mainly down to the GP prescribing me the wrong antibiotics the first three times and this allowed the infection to take hold.

I eventually got to see a senior ENT doctor who used suction to clean my ear out and then noticed I had a retracted eardrum, so they numbed my ear, pierced the eardrum and sucked some more of the fluid behind it out. I am told in a few days my hearing should return to normal, and the infection should now go. This wasn't a nice thing to have done, but I am hoping it helps.


I first started out with a sinus infection, cleared it up, then a week later had problems with pressure in my left ear. I went to the ENT and he said I had a retracted eardrum and told me to use nose drops. I am in Croatia now and flying back home in a month. Will I have a problem flying with a retracted eardrum? By the way, I have been taking decongestants and doing the malsalva man, every hour during the day for the past week and it hasn't gotten any better. So far, the ENTs I have seen here stink!


I had a retracted eardrum and it was diagnosed four weeks ago. I had antibiotic therapy in the first week then a corticosteroid during the second week and now another antibiotic therapy. Aside from the valsalva maneuver, what else I can do to promote normal pressure in my eustachian tube?


An ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor treats these types of problems. Your regular doctor should recommend one or check at your local hospital.


@BabaB: Thank you for your reply. What kind of antibiotics cleared your sister's infections?

My mother takes a medicine care, but it doesn't stop being damaged by some infections. Her situation is worsening these days. If you can give us any advice, please let us know. Thank you.


A retracted eardrum -- or really any damage to the ear -- is scary stuff. I work as a volunteer answering phones in a clinic, and the kind of things that people do to their ears is really just beyond the pale.

Luckily, working there has given me some good tips on caring for my ears though. My nurse friends there tell me that the best ways to care for your ears are by keeping them clean to avoid infection, avoiding really loud noises, and of course, not sticking things down in them -- even Q-tips.

So take care of your ears, people -- believe me, you don't want to see what happens if you don't!


@mandalay - Sorry about your mother's ear problem. I know how scary these situations can be because my sister used to be at risk for a retracted eardrum.

My sister used to have a ton of ear infections when she was younger, to the point where her hearing was really impaired a lot of the time. I remember the doctors telling my mom that she was at risk for a retracted eardrum, and how frightening that was.

Luckily, they got her on some strong antibiotics and everything cleared up, so her hearing impairment was temporary, which we were so thankful for.


My mother has had a eardrum-related sudden deafness, and has no problem in her head according to a brain CT scan. As her doctor said, the major cause of her deafness is that her right eardrum is pulled inside, and it is probably caused by middle ear infection.

Her doctor, however, couldn't provide any absolute solution for her ears. If anybody knows any medical specialist in that field in the world, please tell me. We can go anywhere around the globe even to the other side of the planet. Thanks.

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    • Increased hearing sensitivity is a sign of a retracted eardrum, which causes one to hear sounds louder than they are.
      By: Syda Productions
      Increased hearing sensitivity is a sign of a retracted eardrum, which causes one to hear sounds louder than they are.
    • Pain may be present with a retracted eardrum.
      By: Tatyana Gladskih
      Pain may be present with a retracted eardrum.
    • Ear pain may be a sign of a retracted eardrum.
      By: Piotr Marcinski
      Ear pain may be a sign of a retracted eardrum.
    • When an eardrum gets sucked into the space behind it, the condition is known as a retracted eardrum.
      By: Alila Medical Media
      When an eardrum gets sucked into the space behind it, the condition is known as a retracted eardrum.
    • A retracted eradrum is usually caused by an ear infection.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      A retracted eradrum is usually caused by an ear infection.
    • A sudden change in outside air pressure may cause a retracted eardrum.
      By: Von Schonertagen
      A sudden change in outside air pressure may cause a retracted eardrum.