cholesteatoma is an abnormal, noncancerous skin growth that can develop in the
middle section of your ear, behind the eardrum. It may be a birth defect, but
it’s most commonly caused by repeated middle ear infections.
cholesteatoma often develops as a cyst, or sac, that sheds layers of old skin.
As these dead skin cells accumulate, the growth can increase in size and
destroy the delicate bones of the middle ear. This may affect hearing, balance,
and the function of facial muscles.
What Causes a Cholesteatoma?
Besides repeated infections, a
cholesteatoma may also be caused by a poorly functioning eustachian tube, which
is the tube that leads from the back of the nose to the middle of the ear.
The eustachian tube allows air to flow
through the ear and equalize ear pressure. It may not work properly due to any
of the following:
- chronic ear infections
- sinus infections
If your eustachian tube isn’t working
correctly, a partial vacuum might occur in your middle ear. This may cause a
section of your eardrum to be pulled into the middle ear, creating a cyst that
can turn into a cholesteatoma. The growth then becomes larger as it fills with
old skin cells, fluids, and other waste materials.
Cholesteatoma in Children
In very rare cases, a baby may be born
with a cholesteatoma. This is considered a birth defect. Congenital
cholesteatomas can form in the middle ear or in other areas of the ear.
In cases where children acquire ear
infections repeatedly early in life, it is possible that cholesteatomas can
develop from a young age.
What Are the Symptoms of a
symptoms associated with a cholesteatoma typically start out mild. They become
more severe as the cyst grows larger and begin to cause problems within your
the affected ear may drain a foul-smelling fluid. As the cyst grows, it will
begin to create a sense of pressure in your ear, which may cause some
discomfort. You might also feel an aching pain in or behind your ear. The
pressure of the growing cyst may even cause hearing loss in the affected ear.
your doctor right away if you’re having any of these symptoms. Vertigo, facial
muscle paralysis, and permanent hearing loss can occur if the cyst continues to
What Are the Potential
Complications of a Cholesteatoma?
left untreated, a cholesteatoma will grow larger and cause complications that
range from mild to very severe.
dead skin cells that accumulate in the ear provide an ideal environment for
bacteria and fungus to thrive. This means the cyst can become infected, causing
inflammation and continual ear drainage.
time, a cholesteatoma may also destroy the surrounding bone. It can damage the
eardrum, the bones inside the ear, the bones near the brain, and the nerves of
the face. Permanent hearing loss may occur if the bones within the ear are
cyst may even spread into the face if it continues to grow, causing facial
potential complications include:
- chronic infection
of the ear
- swelling of the
- paralysis of the
- meningitis, which
is a life-threatening brain infection
- brain abscesses,
or collections of pus in the brain
How Is a Cholesteatoma
determine whether you have a cholesteatoma, your doctor will examine the inside
of your ear using an otoscope. This medical device allows your doctor to see if
there are signs of a growing cyst. Specifically, they will look for a visible
deposit of skin cells or a large mass of blood vessels in the ear.
doctor may need to order a CT scan if there are no obvious signs of a
cholesteatoma. A CT scan might also be ordered if you’re showing certain
symptoms, such as dizziness and facial muscle weakness. A CT scan is a painless
imaging test that captures images from a cross section of your body. The scan
allows your doctor to see inside your ear and skull. This can help them better
visualize the cyst or rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.
How Is a Cholesteatoma
speaking, the only way to treat a cholesteatoma is to have it surgically
removed. The cyst must be removed to prevent the complications that can occur
if it grows larger. Cholesteatomas don’t go away naturally. They usually
continue to grow and cause additional problems.
a cholesteatoma has been diagnosed, a regimen of antibiotics, ear drops, and
careful cleaning of the ear will most likely be prescribed to treat the
infected cyst, reduce inflammation, and drain the ear. Your medical
professional will then be able to better analyze the growth traits of the cyst
and make a plan for surgical removal.
most cases, the surgery is an outpatient procedure. This means that you don’t
have to stay in the hospital after the procedure. A hospital stay is only
necessary if the cyst is very large or if you have a serious infection. The
surgery is done under general anesthesia. After the initial surgery to remove
the cyst, follow-up surgery to reconstruct any damage to the inner ear and make
sure that the cyst has been completely removed successfully is often
the cholesteatoma is removed, you’ll need to attend follow-up appointments to
evaluate results and to ensure the cyst hasn’t come back. If the cyst broke any
bones in your ear, you’ll need a second surgery to repair them.
surgery, some people experience temporary dizziness or taste abnormalities.
These side effects almost always resolve themselves within a few days.
Tips to Prevent
cholesteatomas cannot be prevented, but parents should be aware of the
condition so that it can quickly be identified and treated when present.
can prevent cholesteatomas later in life by treating ear infections quickly and
thoroughly. However, cysts may still occur. It’s important to treat
cholesteatomas as early as possible to prevent complications. Call your doctor
right away if you believe you have a cholesteatoma.
Long-Term Outlook for
People with a Cholesteatoma
long-term outlook for people with cholesteatomas is generally good.
Complications are usually rare if the cyst is caught and removed early. If a
cholesteatoma sac has become particularly large or complex before it is identified,
it is possible that there will be some permanent hearing loss. Imbalance and
vertigo can also result from a large cholesteatoma eating through the sensitive
nerves and delicate bones in the ear.
if it does increase in size, the cyst can almost always be removed successfully