Everyone says you shouldn't clean your ears with cotton swabs because you could break an eardrum. But if you do break your eardrum, will it grow back?

Your eardrum is a very thin membrane, and also very delicate. It can be ruptured by loud noise, changes in air pressure (such as while scuba diving, flying in an airplane, or even driving in high mountains), severe ear or sinus infections, or by sticking something in your ear too far.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may have busted your eardrum:

  • Discharge from the ear
  • Buzzing or strange noise in your ear
  • An intense earache
  • Hearing loss in the affected ear
  • Dizziness or strange sensations in that side of your face

If you tear your eardrum, it will usually grow back, and any hearing loss you suffer is usually temporary. But the healing process is slow (it takes about two months) and not always pleasant. A doctor can prescribe medication to relieve the pain and discomfort.

An old wives' tale used to say this: Don't stick things in your ear smaller than your elbow. The best course of action is to treat your ears delicately to avoid damaging them in the first place.