Eardrum repair is a surgical procedure used to fix a hole or tear in the eardrum (tympanic membrane). It can also be used to repair or replace the three tiny bones behind the eardrum (ossicles).
The eardrum is a thin membrane between your outer ear and your middle ear that vibrates when sound waves hit it. An ear infection, surgery, or trauma may cause damage to your eardrum or middle ear bones that must be corrected with surgery. Damage to these organs can result in hearing loss and an increased risk of ear infections.
Types of Eardrum Repair Procedures
If the hole or tear in your eardrum is small, your doctor may first try to patch the hole with gel or a paper-like tissue. This procedure takes 10 to 30 minutes and can often be done in the doctor’s office with only local anesthesia.
If the hole in your eardrum is large or if you have a chronic ear infection that cannot be cured with antibiotics, a surgeon may perform a tympanoplasty. You will be in the hospital for this surgery and will be placed under general anesthesia, so you will be unconscious.
First, the surgeon will use a laser to carefully remove any excess tissue or scar tissue that has built up in your middle ear. Then, he or she will take a small piece of your own tissue from a vein or muscle sheath and graft it onto your eardrum to close the hole. The surgeon will either go through your ear canal to repair the eardrum, or make a small incision behind your ear and access your eardrum that way. The procedure takes two to three hours.
If the three tiny bones of your middle ear have been damaged by ear infections or trauma, the surgeon will also repair them while you are under general anesthesia. The bones can be replaced by using either bones from a donor or prosthetic devices.
Complications from Eardrum Repairs
There are risks involved in any type of surgery. These can include bleeding, infection at the surgery site, and allergic reactions to medications and anesthesia given during the procedure.
Complications from this specific type of surgery are rare, but can include:
- damage to your facial nerve or the nerve controlling your sense of taste
- damage to the bones of your middle ear, causing hearing loss
- incomplete healing of the hole in your eardrum
- moderate or severe hearing loss
- cholesteatoma (an abnormal skin growth behind your eardrum)
Preparing for an Eardrum Repair
Tell your doctor about any medication and supplements you are taking and about any allergies you may have to medications, latex, or anesthesia. Also, be sure to tell the doctor if you are feeling sick, because your surgery may need to be postponed.
You will probably be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. If you need to take medications, take them with only a small sip of water. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what time to arrive at the hospital on the day of your surgery.
After an Eardrum Repair Procedure
You can usually leave the hospital on the same day you have your surgery. The doctor will fill your ear with cotton packing. You should keep the packing in your ear for five to seven days after your surgery. Sometimes, the doctor will put a bandage over your entire ear to protect it.
You may be given eardrops after the surgery. To apply them, gently remove the packing and put the drops in your ear. Replace the packing and do not put anything else in your ear.
Until your doctor tells you it’s okay, do not allow any water to get into your ear. Avoid swimming and wear a shower cap to keep water out. Do not “pop” your ears or blow your nose. If you need to sneeze, do so with your mouth open so that pressure does not build up in your ears.
Avoid crowded places and people who may be sick. If you catch a cold after surgery, it could increase your risk of contracting an ear infection.
After surgery, you may feel shooting pain in your ear or feel as though your ear is filled with liquid. You may also hear popping, clicking, or other sounds in your ear. These symptoms are usually mild and get better after a few days.
Success Rate for Eardrum Repairs
In most cases, eardrum repairs are very successful. According to the Columbia University Medical Center, more than 90 percent of patients recover from the surgery with no complications. Only two to four out of every 1,000 patients will experience long-term hearing loss after the procedure. (Columbia) The outcome of the surgery may not be as good if the bones of your middle ear need to be repaired in addition to your eardrum.