Tympanoplasty is the main surgical technique the ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, use to patch a ruptured eardrum.

Though a ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) can be painful and cause hearing loss — both worrisome symptoms — it usually heals on its own in a few weeks with the help of antibiotics or ear drops. Sometimes, however, the damage is severe enough that it requires a tympanoplasty surgery to repair.

Experts in our nationally ranked Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery specialize in this surgical procedure, so you’ll be in good hands as we work to repair your eardrum, relieve painful symptoms and restore some hearing.

What is a tympanoplasty?

A bad ear infection, a foreign object, a prior surgery or trauma can cause damage to the eardrum (tympanic membrane) requiring surgical repair. Tympanoplasty is a surgical technique that patches the eardrum using a specialized graft of your own tissue or synthetic material.

The surgery might also involve other techniques, like a mastoidectomy, to correct other problems related to the ear and the temporal bone behind the ear (the mastoid).

When is a tympanoplasty done?

A tympanoplasty isn’t typically the first treatment we recommend for a ruptured eardrum or other inner ear damage. Usually, we’ll see if rest and antibiotics will heal the problem area over the course of a few weeks.

Our ENT specialists may recommend this surgical treatment if:

  • The hole in the eardrum is large
  • There’s excess tissue around the eardrum
  • The damage doesn’t respond to antibiotics
  • There’s chronic infection

How is a tympanoplasty performed?

The surgery takes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes and is usually done while you’re under general anesthesia; however, some simple cases may be done in an office setting under local anesthesia.

Your surgeon will enter the ear through the ear canal or an incision in the back of the ear, depending on the location and size of the hole. Using a microscope or endoscope, the doctor will examine the ear and repair the hole with a graft of tissue either taken from another part of your body or synthetic material.

The graft of tissue will support the growth of new cells and eventually will close the hole in the eardrum.

Sometimes, other surgical techniques will be performed alongside a tympanoplasty depending on the extent of the damage. These include:

  • A mastoidectomy – This removes diseased cells from the skull bone behind the ear, which is called the mastoid bone.
  • An ossiculoplasty – This reconstructs the ossicles, which are tiny bones in the middle ear.

Preparing for a tympanoplasty

Your doctor will perform a full examination of your ear and work with an audiologist, who will test your hearing to determine if a tympanoplasty is the proper treatment for your damaged ear.

If you proceed with the surgery, it’s important to remember that you’ll be under general anesthesia, so you’ll need to refrain from eating the night before and arrange to have a ride to and from surgery.

You also might be put on an antibiotic to prevent infection, and your head and neck may be shaved before an incision is made.

What to expect during a tympanoplasty

You’ll be asleep during the procedure, so you won’t feel pain. You’re typically able to go home later that day.

Recovery from a tympanoplasty

After surgery, you may experience some mild to moderate discomfort, but this should be able to be managed with prescription pain medicine. We’ll also sometimes prescribe anti-nausea medications.

Here are some steps you can take to make your recovery go smoothly:

  • Leave bandages on your ear for at least 24 hours.
  • Keep your ears dry by not showering for the first three days after surgery, and then covering your ear with a barrier (a cotton ball, for example) for a few weeks when you do shower.
  • Sleep in an elevated position.
  • Place a cotton ball in your ear if you experience some bleeding or drainage — but call your doctor if it’s more drainage than expected.
  • Don’t blow your nose for at least three weeks.
  • Don’t swim for four to six weeks.
  • Refrain from strenuous activity, including lifting objects heavier than 20 pounds, until your ear is healed.

How long does recovery from a tympanoplasty take?

You should expect to take it easy for a week following a tympanoplasty. If you return to normal activities too early, you could damage the middle or inner ear.

Although most people don’t experience any postoperative issues, call your doctor if your pain is severe or if a foul-smelling fluid begins draining from your ear.

Risks of a tympanoplasty

The biggest risk of a tympanoplasty is failure — if the procedure doesn’t work, the hole in your ear doesn’t go away. Other complications include infection, bleeding, drainage, taste change, hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in your ear), though they are rare.

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