Widespread controversy exists concerning the treatment of traumatic tympanic membrane perforations. To elucidate the issue, a reference value for the rate of spontaneous tympanic membrane closure in man, to which the healing rates following different techniques of early surgical repair should be compared, was established on the basis of a review of more than 500 texts covering a century's literature on the traumatically perforated tympanic membrane. The spontaneous healing rate appeared to be close to 80 (78.7 per cent) in 760 evaluable cases of traumatic tympanic membrane perforations of all sorts diagnosed within 14 days post injury. A relative, causal-related variation of spontaneous healing could be demonstrated, and a pathogenetic classification of direct traumatic tympanic membrane perforations into ruptures induced by air-pressure changes, heat or corrosives, solids, and water pressures, is of proved clinical value and may have medico-legal validity. There is an obvious need for clinically controlled studies on the spontaneous healing of all kinds of traumatic perforations of the tympanic membrane in humans, and important elements in the design of future studies are advocated.