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Random Facts We Learn in Class: #17

April 8, 2011

Cigarette paper can be used as a patch to help heal a ruptured ear drum.

Say what? The tympanic membrane (more commonly referred to as the eardrum) is a thin flexible membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It plays an important role in receiving sound vibrations and transmitting them to the auditory ossicles (the tiny bones found in the middle ear). However, it can become perforated or torn because of infection, very loud noises, inserting cotton swabs to clean the ear, and/or trauma to the ear, such as a powerful slap or explosion. A ruptured eardrum can then lead to hearing loss and may also make the middle ear more susceptible to infection. Although usually able to heal on its own within a few weeks, the eardrum may require a procedure to promote healing.1

So why choose this peculiar medium? Easy. The tympanic membrane is roughly the same consistency as cigarette paper. Also, “It’s cheap, reliable, easy to handle–and it works,” says Physician Nancy Snyderman of the University of Arkansas Medical School.2 The cigarette paper, when placed onto the outer surface of the eardrum, provides a matrix for the skin to heal underneath.3

“The eardrum heals in an usual way. If I were to put a bit of paper on the eardrum and film what happened over several weeks, I would see the paper move and eventually slough off into the outer ear. This is because the eardrum is always in flux, making new cells and regenerating itself. It mends as it builds new cells against the buttress of the paper. Without the patch,” explains Synderman, “the eardrum would probably still heal, but with it, healing happens quicker and more evenly.” 2

So think twice before you start shoving those cotton swabs into your ear canal, because you may end up with a little more than smoke out the ears.


1. Ruptured eardrum (perforated eardrum). (2011). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

2. Popular Mechanics. (Nov, 1983). Cigarette Paper Mends Ears. A Popular Mechanics Special Section- Mind & Body. Heart Magazines, p.191.

3. Ear Drum Perforation. Children’s ENT of Houston, Houston, Texas.




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