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What is cholesteatoma?

The term “cholesteatoma” denotes skin growing behind the eardrum and into the spaces beyond, such as the middle ear and mastoid cavities. While not technically a tumor, a cholesteatoma can, in many ways, behave like one due to its unique growth and metabolic properties.

As such, these growths can cause significant damage to multiple important anatomical structures, including the eardrum, hearing bones, ear canal, the inner ear (cochlea), balance organs, skull base, and facial nerve.

As with most other abnormal skin growths, a cholesteatoma may also become infected. This can lead to ear pain, foul-smelling drainage, hearing loss, and/or dizziness. Left untreated, a cholesteatoma may cause permanent functional damage in an ear or, in rare circumstances, be life threatening.

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Cholesteatoma Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a cholesteatoma may include a combination of:

  • dull ear pain
  • ear drainage/discharge
  • hearing loss
  • mild dizziness

If you have been diagnosed with a cholesteatoma, or are concerned you may be experiencing the symptoms of one, please contact our ENT department. We will promptly schedule you for a consultation with our neurotologist/otologist.

Cholesteatoma Treatment

Presently, the only successful treatment for a cholesteatoma is surgery. Our specialty-trained surgeons at Barrow are experts in performing this procedure and will counsel you on the unique aspects of your case and the outcomes that may be anticipated for you following surgery.

As cholesteatomas are highly prone to recurrence, you may require two distinct procedures to fully cure this disease. This process, called surgical staging, has become a standard of care in the treatment of cholesteatomas. Surgical staging is often associated with the best possible outcomes in terms of both curing the underlying disease and restoring some degree of normal hearing.

Additional Information

Who gets cholesteatomas?

Cholesteatomas most often develop in people who have been prone to ear infections and other ear-related problems throughout their life. This is known as an acquired cholesteatoma. Rarely, children can be born with a form of cholesteatoma, known as a congenital cholesteatoma.

How is a cholesteatoma diagnosed?

If you are experiencing symptoms of a cholesteatoma, your doctor will likely order hearing tests and a computed tomography (CT) scan to confirm the diagnosis.

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Cholesteatomas are about 1.4 times as likely to occur in men
Medically Reviewed by Shawn Michael Stevens, MD on April 23, 2021