Repairing the eardrum: The sound of self-healing

Repairing the eardrum: The sound of self-healing

A new way to heal ruptured eardrums could soon be music to the ears of doctors and patients. A ruptured eardrum is relatively common. As well as being painful, it makes it hard to hear and exposes the ear to infection. That’s because the eardrum acts as a barrier, keeping bacteria and other nasties out of the middle ear. Its other main role is carrying sound waves to the bones that enable us to hear. To do this effectively, the eardrum needs to be thin; the membrane is just a fraction of a millimetre thick. But this makes it easy to tear. A tear is most often caused by infection which leads to a build-up of pressure behind the eardrum. But a tear might also be caused by a sudden change of pressure outside the ear, or a misplaced cotton bud. Almost all small tears heal naturally over the course of several weeks but large tears may need to be repaired by a doctor. At the moment, surgery is the only option. The surgeon takes a small patch of skin from just above the ear, and stitches it onto the damaged eardrum. This works most of the time, but as with all surgery, it can be expensive and time-consuming. Plus there are risks, including complications from the anaesthetic and nerve damage. Now, an alternative is within earshot. Rather than covering the tear with a patch of skin, scientists are trying to coax the eardrum into repairing itself. The idea is to build a scaffold which can bridge the tear, then add a growth factor to encourage the eardrum’s own cells to close the wound. The scaffold that seems to work best is a sponge made from gelatin. It can be cut to any size; it’s a 3D structure so cells can grow inside it as well as on its surface, and it can be easily absorbed by the body after doing its job. Japanese researchers found that by cutting a sponge down to the size of the tear and loading it with a fibroblast growth factor – a chemical normally produced by the body during wound healing – they could stimulate the eardrum to repair itself. The sponge scaffold is stuck in place using fibrin glue that forms a clot, like when blood clots to seal a wound. There’s no need for a skin graft, and the procedure only requires a local anaesthetic. The sponge has been tested in patients, and seems to work well. We’re expecting results from a much larger clinical trial later this year. So listen out for a new kind of treatment for ruptured eardrums soon…

20 Replies to “Repairing the eardrum: The sound of self-healing”

  1. Thank you for sharing and bravo to all involved. As an opera singer with a perforated ear drum that cannot be repaired apparently, I was in tears watching this and an now very hopeful. It has affected my health and the journey to get back on stage again has been slow but I have lovely support. I look forward to seeing how this technology progresses. If there is an option to be involved in the clinical trials, I would be interested.

  2. How about a large hole? My ent feels that surgery would make hearing worse, as he feels my hearing is too good for surgery even though the hole is big. I have what ent's describe as a mild hearing loss. Even if I decided to have surgery there's no guarantee that it wouldn't be made worse from the scarring.

  3. Can they do it the large hole my ent said to me surgery is not applicable because is large hole now im suffering pressure in my left ear headache dizziness everyday im tired to dealing this sometimes i countd sleep

  4. I am not sure about this topic, but the sponge scaffold, may cause a stress on to the cells in the way the cells grow and may be good for small perforations, and wont cause any sort of metaplasia of the cells and eventually lead to dysplasia and now you have tumor growing in the ear because of this. For larger perforations, I believe surgery may still be the better option.

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