Perforated eardrum - Treatment 

Treating a perforated eardrum 

Avoid getting water in your ear

Do not get water in your ear while your eardrum heals. When showering, wear a shower cap over your ears or gently place a ball of cotton wool in the ear. Do not go swimming while your eardrum is healing.

In many cases, a perforated eardrum will heal by itself in around two months without treatment. If treatment is needed, it's mainly to relieve discomfort and treat infection.

Painkillers

Any pain or discomfort caused by a perforated eardrum can be treated using painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to children under 16.

You may want to try placing a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel against your ear, as this sometimes relieves any discomfort.

Antibiotics

Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if your perforated eardrum was caused by an infection or if there is a risk that an infection will develop while your eardrum heals. You may be prescribed antibiotic eardrops or tablets.

Surgery

You may need surgery if your perforated eardrum is severe or doesn't heal. The procedure used to repair a perforated eardrum is known as a myringoplasty.

A myringoplasty may be recommended to:

  • prevent water from entering your middle ear, which could cause an infection
  • reduce your likelihood of getting ear infections
  • improve your hearing

If your GP refers you to a consultant for specialist treatment such as surgery, you have the right to start treatment within 18 weeks of your referral. You may be able to book your hospital appointment through Choose and Book while you're still in your GP surgery.

Read more about NHS waiting times for treatment.

The procedure

If you decide to have a myringoplasty, you will be admitted to the specialist ear, nose and throat (ENT) department of your local hospital. Depending on your circumstances, the time you will need to spend in hospital can vary from a few hours to a couple of days.

The myringoplasty procedure will be carried out under general anaesthetic and usually takes an hour or two to perform. A small piece of tissue is usually taken from above your ear and is used to seal up the hole in your eardrum. This is known as a graft.

The surgeon uses a microscope and very small surgical equipment to seal up the hole with the skin graft. Sometimes, a cut is made behind your ear to access your eardrum more easily.

After the procedure, a dressing will be placed inside your ear canal and cotton wool padding will be put over your ear and held in place with a bandage. You may also have some stitches.

Recovery

You will need two weeks off school or work after your operation. During this time, you should avoid:

  • sudden head movements
  • contact sports or strenuous exercise
  • heavy lifting
  • people who have a cough or cold, so that you don't catch their infection

If you have stitches, these will be removed after around a week.

A myringoplasty should not cause too much pain, but if necessary you can take painkillers. You may experience some dizziness for two or three weeks.

Two to four weeks after your operation, you will have an appointment at the outpatient clinic to have your dressings removed and your ear checked.

Keep any wounds dry until they have healed. Do not go swimming and keep your ear covered when you have a shower or bath. Do not fly until your doctor says it is safe to do so.

For more information, see Is it safe to fly with a perforated eardrum?

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2013

Next review due: 12/03/2015

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Which painkiller?

The drugs you should take to treat pain depend on what type of pain you have