Drumming Out Surgery for Broken Drums

Cotton swabs produce ruptured ear drums

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Cotton swabs are convenient tools to clean out the ears, but care needs to used, as most eardrum ruptures are attributed to their overzealous use.

A study generated at Henry Ford Hospital had two findings: it showed there is a direct association between cotton swab use and ruptured eardrum, and in most cases the rupture heals on its own.

"Time heals most ruptured eardrums."

Ilaaf Darrat, M.D., an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital and co-author of the study remarked that in the past, many ENT surgeons have wondered if ruptured eardrums require surgery. 

The results of this study show 97 percent of cases heal on their own within two months.

Additionally, more than 50 percent of patients seen at ENT clinics use cotton swabs for ear cleaning. If cotton swabs are pushed too far in the ear canal, they can cause serious damage, including rupture of the eardrum. 

Study co-author Michael Seidman, M.D., FACS, director of the ENT surgery at Henry Ford Hospital offers some alternatives to cotton swabs for ear cleaning:

  1. Mix cool peroxide and hot tap water and gently irrigate the ear one or two times a month. 
  2. Mix  plain vinegar and water and use four or five drops in the ear each week.
  3. See a doctor for ear wax removal. 
  4. Try over-the-counter treatments like Debrox.

The Study

  • 1,540 patients with a diagnosis of tympanic membrane perforation (TMP) from 2001-2010
  • Patients with a cotton swab injury were put into two groups: observation and surgery
  • Successful outcomes were defined as healed TMP, resolution or improvement of vertigo, tinnitus or facial nerve paralysis, and/or closure of the air-bone gap
  • 3 percent of observation patients did not heal with time
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 30, 2011
Last Updated:
May 3, 2011