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A cholesteatoma is a type of cyst found in the middle ear behind the eardrum. It's a noncancerous tumor that forms when the skin grows through the hole in the middle of the ear. It can occur due to a damaged eardrum or a defect at birth.

Regions of the Ear

Regions of the Ear

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Are You at Risk?

Factors that increase your risk of a cholesteatoma include:

  • Chronic ear infections
  • A poorly functioning eustachian tube
  • Down syndrome
  • Turner syndrome
  • Cleft palate
  • Abnormalities of the bones of the skull and face
  • A family history of chronic middle ear disease or cholesteatoma

Symptoms of Cholesteatoma

Symptoms include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Discharge from the ear, sometimes foul-smelling
  • Pressure in the ear
  • Earache
  • Numbness of the ear
  • A sensation of spinning
  • Muscle weakness in the face on the affected side

Diagnosing Cholesteatoma

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Images may be taken of your middle ear and surrounding structures. This can be done with:

  • CT scan
  • X-ray

Your doctor may also test your nerve function, hearing and balance.  

Treatment for Cholesteatoma

If the tumor goes untreated, serious complications may occur that include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • A spinning sensation known as vertigo
If the infection spreads to the brain, it can lead to meningitis and brain abscess.


Your doctor uses a scalpel or a needle and a syringe to thoroughly clean the ear and remove fluid and bacteria. You'll be given eardrops to prevent the infection from returning.

You're likely to recover fully without complications if the tumor is caught and treated early with surgery.


Medications are necessary to dry the fluid in the ear if allergies or other causes are producing excess fluid.


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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