Eardrum repair is a surgical procedure used to fix a hole or tear in the eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane. This surgery can also be used to repair or replace the three tiny bones behind the eardrum.
The eardrum is a thin membrane between your outer ear and your middle ear that vibrates when sound waves hit it. Repeated ear infections, surgery, or trauma may cause damage to your eardrum or middle ear bones that must be corrected with surgery. Damage to the eardrum or middle ear bones 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 15 to 30 minutes and can often be done in the doctor’s office with only local anesthesia.
A tympanoplasty is performed if the hole in your eardrum is large or if you have a chronic ear infection that cannot be cured with antibiotics. You will most likely be in the hospital for this surgery and will be placed under general anesthesia. You will be unconscious during this procedure.
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, a small piece of your own tissue will be taken from a vein or muscle sheath and grafted 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.
This procedure typically takes two to three hours.
An ossiculoplasty is performed if the three tiny bones of your middle ear, known as the ossicles, have been damaged by ear infections or trauma. This procedure is also performed under general anesthesia. The bones can be replaced either by using bones from a donor or by using prosthetic devices.
Complications from eardrum repairs
There are risks involved with any type of surgery. Risks can include bleeding, infection at the surgery site, and allergic reactions to medications and anesthesia given during the procedure.
Complications from eardrum repair 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, which is an abnormal skin growth behind your eardrum
Preparing for an eardrum repair
Tell your doctor about any medications and supplements you are taking. You should also let them know about any allergies you may have, including those to medications, latex, or anesthesia. Be sure to tell the doctor if you are feeling sick. In this case, your surgery may need to be postponed.
You will probably be asked to avoid eating and drinking 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.
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After an eardrum repair procedure
After your surgery, your doctor will fill your ear with cotton packing. This packing should remain in your ear for five to seven days after your surgery. A bandage is usually placed over your entire ear to protect it. People who undergo an eardrum repair procedure are typically released from the hospital immediately.
You may be given ear drops after the surgery. To apply them, gently remove the packing and put the drops in your ear. Replace the packing and don’t put anything else in your ear.
Try to prevent water from entering your ear during recovery. Avoid swimming and wear a shower cap to keep water out when you bathe. 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 you may 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 improve after a few days.
In most cases, eardrum repairs are very successful. More than 90 percent of patients recover from tympanoplasty with no complications. 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.