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Perforated eardrum

Find out when surgery on a perforated (burst) eardrum is carried out, what it involves, what the recovery period is like and what the possible risks are.

You may need surgery to repair your perforated eardrum if the hole in your eardrum is large or doesn't heal in a few weeks

The type of operation you'll have is called a myringoplasty.

This page covers:

What happens

Recovery and aftercare advice

Risks and complications

What happens during surgery for a perforated eardrum

Surgery to repair a burst eardrum is usually carried out in hospital under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep).

During the procedure:

  • a small cut is made just in front or behind your ear and a small piece of tissue is removed from under your skin – this will leave a small scar, which will usually be covered by your hair
  • small surgical instruments are used to patch the hole in your eardrum with this piece of tissue – this may be done through your ear opening, or through a small cut made next to your ear
  • a dressing is placed in your ear to hold the patch in place and stop water and germs getting in – this usually stays in place for about two or three weeks
  • cotton wool padding is put over your ear and held in place with a bandage
  • the cut(s) in your skin are closed with stitches

Most people can go home on the same day or the day after the operation.

Recovering from surgery for a perforated eardrum

It usually takes a few weeks for your eardrum to heal.

A follow-up appointment for about two or three weeks after your operation will be arranged before or soon after leaving hospital.

Looking after yourself

After the operation:

  • make sure someone stays with you for the first 24 hours – don't drive or drink alcohol during this time
  • change the cotton wool in your ear every day (but leave the dressing that's deeper in your ear in place)
  • avoid getting your ear wet – place cotton wool covered in petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) in your ear when showering
  • you may need to stay off work (or school) for about a week – you might be off for longer if your job involves lots of moving or bending over
  • after about a week, speak to your GP surgery about getting your stitches removed (if they don't dissolve by themselves)

Activities to avoid

Until you've had your follow-up appointment, avoid:

  • flying – read more about flying with a perforated eardrum
  • swimming
  • smoking
  • close contact with sick people – you could pick up an ear infection
  • sports and other strenuous activities
  • blowing your nose too hard – if you need to sneeze, try to keep your mouth open to reduce the pressure in your ear

Your doctor or nurse will advise you when to return to normal activities.

When to get medical advice

It's normal to have some discomfort, dizziness, unusual noises in your ear and a little bleeding for the first few days after surgery.

Contact the hospital or your GP if:

  • you have lots of fluid or blood coming from your ear, particularly if the fluid smells bad
  • you have pain that's severe and isn't relieved with painkillers
  • you feel very dizzy or the dizziness doesn't improve in a few days
  • your ear is red, swollen and itchy

Risks of surgery for a perforated eardrum

Surgery to repair a perforated eardrum doesn't usually cause any serious problems.

But possible risks include:

  • a wound infection, which can cause pain, bleeding and leaking of fluid – contact the hospital or your GP if you have these symptoms
  • ringing or buzzing in your ear (tinnitus) – this usually improves in time, but can sometimes be permanent
  • changes in taste – these are usually temporary, but can occasionally be permanent
  • worse hearing or hearing loss – although permanent hearing loss is rare
  • inability to move muscles in part of the face – this may get better over time, but can be permanent in rare cases

Before you have surgery, talk to your surgeon about the possible benefits and risks of the operation.

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