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A unique ear condition whereby skin cells clump together - forming a cyst in the middle ear and mastoid - cholesteatoma can be problematic if left untreated.

Despite not being cancerous, loss of hearing often occurs in patients whose cholesteatoma aren’t adequately dealt with. Prompt medical attention will ensure that you maintain good health and get on the road to recovery from your cholesteatoma quickly.

Boots Hearingcare looks at some of the most important information about cholesteatoma, including its symptoms and effective treatment options…

Cholesteatoma symptoms

Cholesteatoma usually only affect one ear. In the early stages of cholesteatoma, symptoms are minimal and often ignored; however, these tend to progress as the condition worsens.

The most common symptoms of cholesteatoma include:
  • Watery discharge from ear – often accompanied by an unpleasant odour
  • Ear pain
  • Hearing loss in the affected ear
  • Tinnitus
Some patients also report feelings of fullness or pressure in the ear, muscle weakness on the affected side of their face, and taste bud changes. If you suspect cholesteatoma, contact your GP immediately.

Cholesteatoma causes

Trauma and infection are leading causes of cholesteatoma, with sufferers of otitis media – middle ear infections – being particularly susceptible.

Eustachian tube dysfunction is another common cause of cholesteatoma. You should inform your doctor if you suspect this as the cause of any ear cysts so that they can more effectively evaluate and treat your condition.

On rare occasions, infants have been found with cholesteatoma at birth.

Cholesteatoma treatment

Cholesteatoma cannot be treated with medication – surgery is needed to remove the cyst entirely. This will involve general anaesthetic.

After surgery, follow-up appointments are held to check for any signs of the cholesteatoma returning, as well as monitoring your overall ear health.

Cholesteatoma prevention

As it is impossible to prevent cholesteatoma, the main thing is to ensure prompt treatment of ear infections, which reduces the risk of developing the condition. You can regularly check your ears, and if things start sounding strange or you begin to experience any irregular symptoms, see your doctor.

Frequently asked questions

What is the likelihood of cholesteatoma recurrence?
Because cholesteatoma is an aggressive disease, recurrence is a real possibility. It usually happens when a tiny fragment of the original cholesteatoma lining is left behind, regrowing behind the eardrum, or when an entirely new cholesteatoma forms in the middle ear or mastoid cavity. Further surgery will be required to correct either type of complication.
What is the cholesteatoma prognosis?
In the long run, patients with cholesteatoma will be OK if the cyst is caught and removed early. This is done through minor surgery. However, if a cholesteatoma has grown particularly large or complex prior to identification, there could very well be some permanent hearing loss.
Can cholesteatoma cause neck pain?
Unless it’s treated, a cholesteatoma will almost certainly begin to cause neck and head pain while continuing to grow. People with cholesteatoma should see a doctor and get treatment as early as possible to prevent this from happening.