When you hear a sound, vibrations in the ear are transmitted to the tympanic (TIM-PAN-ICK) membrane, or eardrum, and then to the inner ear, where they're converted to nerve impulses and sent to the brain. Damage to the eardrum by a blow to the ear or insertion of a sharp object (even a cotton swab) disrupts this process. A more common cause of a ruptured eardrum is a middle ear infection. It causes a buildup of fluid in the ear which bursts the eardrum to relieve the pressure. If the condition is identified in time, antibiotics can be used to treat the infection before damage occurs. A minor surgical operation can also be used to drain excess fluid. At the first sign of a middle ear infection, an ear, nose and throat specialist should be contacted for a thorough examination. If the eardrum has already been damaged, the doctor can assess the situation and take steps to ensure healing.