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Cholesteatoma: Rare Growths That Affect Hearing

One of the most critical parts of a person’s ear is the eardrum. This thin piece of tissue separates the air-filled outer and middle ears from the liquid-filled inner ear. Cholesteatoma is a growth that develops on or inside any part of this membrane, leading to hearing loss, among other symptoms.

Causes of Cholesteatoma

Cholesteatoma is caused by an abnormal buildup of skin cells and fluids on the eardrum. There are several forms of cholesteatoma, each with a distinct cause.

Types of cholesteatoma include:

Congenital Cholesteatoma

Congenital cholesteatoma occurs when a fetus is developing in the mother’s womb. This disorder causes a defect that allows skin cells inside the ear canal to migrate into one or both middle ears and cause cholesteatoma.

Post-traumatic Cholesteatoma

Post-traumatic cholesteatoma occurs after an injury, such as a skull fracture or punctured eardrum. The injury causes an opening inside the ear canal that allows skin cells to migrate into one or both middle ears and cause cholesteatoma.

Primary Acquired Cholesteatoma

When the eustachian tube is not correctly draining or equalizing pressure, a primary acquired cholesteatoma may form. Improper drainage and pressure from the ear can cause the eardrum to be pulled to the middle of the ear canal, leading to a buildup of skin cells on the membrane. 

Who is Most at Risk?

Cholesteatoma occurs in about 1 in 20,000 people. It mainly occurs in people who were affected by chronic middle ear infections as children. However, it can also affect those who have not had any infections in the past.

A physician will typically perform an otoscopic exam and use imaging tests such as CT scans to diagnose cholesteatoma.  

Symptoms of Cholesteatoma

Seeing or having a growth in the ear can be scary, but it’s not always something that needs to be taken care of right away. The first sign you may have cholesteatoma is hearing loss. 

Other symptoms of cholesteatoma include:

  • Dizziness
  • Ear pressure
  • Ear pain
  • Numbness on one side of the face
  • Tinnitus 
  • Muscle spasms in the face
  • Reoccurring watery discharge from the ear

Treatments for Cholesteatoma

The most common treatment for a cholesteatoma growth is the removal of the growth itself. This usually involves a surgical procedure where an otologist will remove the membranes from inside your ear canal, followed by packing to stop any bleeding or discharge that may occur afterward.

The dead skin cells that accumulate in the ear provide a favorable condition for bacteria and fungus to grow, causing further infections. If the cholesteatoma is left untreated for an extended period of time, it can cause permanent damage to your ear canal and eardrum. 

Other risks of untreated cholesteatoma include:

  • Inner ear swelling
  • Meningitis
  • Brain abscesses

The good news is cholesteatomas are rarely life-threatening if they are taken care of properly and in time. Although cholesteatoma can be dangerous if left untreated, removing it can help prevent further complications and improve your quality of life.

Once the growth has been removed, the patient will usually receive a warm saline wash and antibiotic ear drops. People who have had cholesteatoma should watch for new cholesteatoma growths as it is not uncommon for them to form again. Ear and hearing tests along with regularly scheduled visits to an otologist can help catch any new growths early.

Contact the Ear and Sinus Institute

The Ear and Sinus Institute specializes in managing and treating conditions of the ears, nose, and sinuses. If you are experiencing a cholesteatoma growth or any other ear-related issues, the Ear and Sinus Institute experts can help. Call us at 817-332-4060 or click here to schedule an appointment today.

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