Hole in the Eardrum (Tympanic Membrane Perforation) and Repair

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A hole in the eardrum is also known as tympanic membrane perforation. Other synonymous terms are perforated eardrum & ruptured eardrum. There are several reasons why this may happen including:

If the perforated eardum occurred suddenly (ie, traumatic, barotrauma, ear infection), treatment is initially with antibiotic ear drops +/- steroids. In the vast majority of the time, the perforated eardrum will heal closed over the ensuing weeks.

videoWatch a Time Lapse Video of an Ear Infection with Ruptured Eardrum

If the eardrum does not heal closed spontaneously with time or the hole has been present for longer than 4-6 months, a surgical procedure can be performed to close the hole either by:

  • "Paper" patch
    • Medium success rate, but very easy to perform with minimal risks. The "paper" patch is in essence a very thin paper or alternative material (ie, gelfoam, fat, steri-strip, etc) placed over the hole the the edges are cleared of scar tissue. The paper patch acts as a scaffold to help the cells "cross" the hole over to the other side for closure.
  • Tympanoplasty (Underlay and Overlay Techniques) - Watch Video
    • High success rate, but requires general anesthesia performed in the operating room. In this surgical procedure, a new eardrum is harvested from the patient's own body tissue (temporalis fascia or tragal perichondrium).
  • Hyaluronic Acid Fat Graft Tympanoplasty
    • Relatively new technique which has a reasonably high success rate (almost as good as traditional tympanoplasty) and can be done under local alone, though our preference is under sedation. In this procedure, fat tissue taken from behind the neck is used to act as a scaffold for epithelial cell migration stimulated by an overlying EpiDisc (hyaluronic acid). Link

Here are cartoons to describe the differences in how these procedures are perform.


This is what a NORMAL ear looks like without a hole in the tympanic membrane (eardrum).

Image taken (and modified) from Wikipedia.

Hole in the Eardrum


Eardrum hole is shown.

Paper Patch Technique

paper patch

Paper patch technique involves putting a thin membrane (film paper, gelfoam, etc) OVER the eardrum hole.

The paper patch is the thin purple stip.

Underlay Technique


In the underlay technique (also known as medial tympanoplasty), patient's own tissue (temporalis fascia) is used as a graft to reconstruct the eardrum by laying it UNDER the eardrum and ear canal wall skin.

The eardrum graft is the thin purple stip.

Watch a video of this repair technique.

Overlay Technique


In the overlay technique (also known as lateral tympanoplasty), patient's own tissue (temporalis fascia) is used as a graft to reconstruct the eardrum by laying it OVER the eardrum extending from placement UNDER the ear canal wall skin.

The eardrum graft is the thin purple stip.

Hyaluronic Acid Fat Graft Tympanoplasty


In the Hyaluronic Acid Fat Graft Tympanoplasty technique, fat tissue is obtained from neck near the ear. This fat tissue (shown in yellow) is placed in the middle ear space and used as a scaffold for new eardrum growth to occur over 2-6 months. This growth is stimulated by a hyaluronic acid disc (EpiDisc) shown in purple.

Surgery is generally not recommended (even if a persistent hole in the eardrum is present) unless one (or both) of the following conditions are present:

  • Documented significant conductive hearing loss by audiogram
  • Recurrent ear infections

If these two conditions are absent, surgery is typically not recommended. Why? Just because there's a hole doesn't mean it has to be corrected unless it is causing a functional problem (just like a bunion of a foot doesn't have to be corrected unless it's causing problems).

In rare cases, a perforated eardrum over a period of years to decades may predispose a patient to cholesteatoma (akin to a skin cyst) which would require surgical removal.

Of course, if a perforated eardrum is present, do NOT use any over-the-counter ear drops or use any type of earwax removal liquid as these medications may cause a horrific earache as well as put your hearing at risk (permanently)!

If you have a perforated eardrum, please contact our office for an appointment.

Animation by O2Labz

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