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A cholesteatoma is a growth in the eardrum. It is non-cancerous in nature but can cause a slew of problems. A cholesteatoma usually begins as a cyst that sheds layers of dead skin. Over time, the dead skin builds up and can cause damage to the eardrum or the hearing bones, so it is important to get it taken care of.

What Causes a Cholesteatoma?

A cholesteatoma can be caused by several different things. The most common cause of a cholesteatoma is repeated middle ear infections. Another cause of a cholesteatoma is the malfunctioning of the eustachian tubes (the tubes that connect the back of the nose to the ears). The purpose of these tubes is to equalize the pressure on both sides of the eardrum. Sinus infections, ear infections, allergies, and colds all may cause the eustachian tubes to not function properly.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cholesteatoma?

The symptoms of a cholesteatoma are mild at first but worsen as the intermittent discharge builds up in the ear. The ear may start to drain a foul-smelling odor. When there is more discharge, it will begin to put pressure inside the ear which can be uncomfortable and even cause a hearing loss. Other symptoms include tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and dizziness. It’s important to see a doctor if you are having any of these symptoms so the problem can be taken care of right away.

How is a Cholesteatoma Treated?

A cholesteatoma is treated with surgery since that is the only way to remove the cyst. Prior to surgery, patients are given antibiotics and ear drops to treat the infected cyst and prepare it for removal. The removal process (tympanoplasty) is a simple procedure under general anesthesia, and most patients go home right away. Often a second surgery will also be scheduled to repair any damage that the cyst caused to the middle ear and to ensure that the cyst was fully removed.

Can a Cholesteatoma be Prevented?

Tubes are placed in the ears to prevent cholesteatomas. Taking care of ear infections as soon as they happen is another preventative measure that can be taken. If there is a family history of cholesteatomas, it cannot be prevented. In this situation, parents should keep a close watch on their children to be on the lookout for the symptoms of a cholesteatoma. It is much better to catch it while the cyst is still small.


If you suspect that you or a loved one has a cholesteatoma, call our office right away at 602-307-9919 to schedule an ear exam.