A cholesteatoma is a small lump which forms in the middle ear space behind the ear drum. It is an abnormal growth from the skin. It is often caused by repeated infections. It can also be caused by Eustachian tube dysfunction. The Eustachian tube is the narrow channel which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose.
Cholesteatomas often start as cysts or pouches which make new layers of skin inside themselves. This makes them gradually get larger. They can destroy the delicate structures of the middle ear such as the ossicles. This may result in hearing loss but surgery can help. Sometimes deafness may be permanent and associated with dizziness and paralysis of the facial muscles.
Sometimes the problem forms when the Eustachian tube doesn't open any more because the middle ear isn't ventilated. This leads to the air in the middle ear being absorbed and a partial vacuum forming. Part of the eardrum may be sucked in, leading to the problem. It is not a form of cancer.
The problem doesn't usually go away on it's own. Occasianally it is present from birth. Symptoms usually are mild to start with and become more severe as the cyst grows. Pain and discomfort may occur, along with deafness, vertigo, facial weakness and ear discharge.
The cysts can become infected and can lead to permanent deafness and facial paralysis. Rarely they can lead to meningitis and brain abscesses in severe cases.
Diagnosis is made by a doctor examining your ear with an otoscope. A CT scan may be performed if there are signs of middle or inner ear damage or pressure.
The only way to treat the problem is to remove the cyst surgically. Before this is arranged regular antibiotics and ear cleaning will be required. The surgery is usually performed as an outpatient, meaning you won't have to stay in the hospital. After the removal of the cyst surgical follow up to rebuild any damaged structures in the ear may be required.
Ear infections are common, thankfully cholesteatoma is much less common. Many ear infections can be avoided by good ear hygiene and protecting the ears from soap and dirty water. Swimmers and people who go in the sea frequently are at high risk of ear infection. In these situations it is a good idea to wear ear plugs for swimming. ZenPlugs Unique Double Action Swimming Ear Plugs are highly effective at preventing swimmer's ear because their customised seal keeps water out and the antibacterial Steritouch kills all the bugs which have been proven to cause ear infection.
Please do not use this article as medical advice. Consult a doctor if any of these issues affect you.
Dr Toby Bateson for ZenPlugs