What is Cholesteatoma?

A cholesteatoma is a benign skin growth that occurs in the middle ear near the eardrum. This type of growth often occurs as a cyst or pouch that sheds layers of old skin that build up inside the ear. If left untreated, a cholesteatoma can increase in size and destroy the bones of the middle ear causing hearing loss and infection of the mastoid bone.


As a cholesteatoma grows, it can cause a sensation of pressure in the ear as well as hearing loss or dizziness. There may also be ear drainage, sometimes with a foul odor.


Cholesteatomas are usually caused by chronic ear infections or poor eustachian tube function. The eustachian tube helps the ear equalize pressure and, when not functioning properly, can cause the eardrum to become retracted or sucked in toward the middle ear. A retraction of the eardrum leaves space for dead skin cells to collect and may lead to growth of cholesteatoma.


A hearing test followed by an ear exam using a microscope or an otoscope can detect the presence of a cholesteatoma. In some cases, CT scans of the skull near the ear are conducted to determine the extent of the growth and balance tests may be conducted if dizziness is a symptom.


Initial treatment may include a careful cleaning of the ear and antibiotics or ear drops to help clear any present infection. Cholesteatomas usually require surgical treatment to prevent continued growth which would lead to more serious complications. Surgical removal of cholesteatoma is done as an outpatient procedure with a high success rate.

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