A cholesteatoma is a benign (noncancerous) skin growth that develops in the middle ear behind the eardrum. It can be a birth defect but is most commonly the result of recurrent or chronic otitis media (ear infections).
It resembles a sac or cyst that sheds layers of old skin. As the dead skin accumulates, it grows in size and begins to damage the delicate hearing bones (ossicles) in the middle ear. This affects hearing, balance, and the function of the facial muscles.
- Recurrent or chronic ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Cold, flu, or upper respiratory infections
- Eustachian tube blockage or dysfunction
- Foul-smelling fluid draining from the ear
- Pressure in the ear
- Aching pain in or behind the ear
- Hearing loss in the affected ear
Your doctor will look inside your ear using an otoscope. This is the same device that your general practitioner uses to check your ears and throat; it contains a light and is only inserted an inch or two into the ear. The otoscope will allow the doctor to see if there are signs of a growing cyst. They will look for a visible deposit of skin cells or a large mass of blood vessels in the ear.
If you are experiencing certain symptoms and the otoscope does not show obvious signs of a cholesteatoma, your doctor may also request a CT scan. This test takes images that enables your doctor to see the inside of the ear and skull. It allows them to visualize the cyst or rule out other possible causes.
The only way to fully treat a cholesteatoma is through surgical removal. If the cyst is left in the ear, it can lead to risky complications.
Risks of Untreated Cholesteatoma:
- Chronic otitis media (ear infection)
- Inner ear swelling (damages hearing)
- Facial muscle paralysis
- Meningitis (life-threatening brain infection)
- Brain abscesses (collections of pus in the brain)