Cholesteatoma

A foul-smelling drainage or plugged-up sensation in the ear may be the first signs of having a cholesteatoma. Defined as an abnormal growth, a cholesteatoma can cause problems with hearing or balance if left untreated. A physician can diagnose the condition by using an instrument, such as an otoscope, and recommend treatment from there.

How Do Cholesteatomas Develop?

A cholesteatoma can develop in utero and throughout life but is most common after birth. They usually form in a vacuum in the Eustachian tube or because of a perforated eardrum. In utero, skin cells can get trapped in the ear, which triggers the growth by birth. Common causes for cholesteatomas after birth include:

  • Poor function in the Eustachian tube
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Trauma to the ear
  • Trapped fluid

The collection of skin cells and debris is the telltale identification of the cholesteatoma’s presence. The patient may experience balance issues, hearing problems, pain behind the ear, or facial paralysis. If paralysis is involved, an MRI may be ordered to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Cholesteatoma UCI Head Neck 1 - Cholesteatoma
Cholesteatoma UCI Head Neck 2 - Cholesteatoma

Treatment for Cholesteatomas

Cholesteatomas do not resolve on their own and could ultimately break the delicate bones in the middle ear if no treatment is prescribed. Typically, the cysts are removed as part of an outpatient surgical procedure. Before the procedure, the ear is cleaned out and treated with antibiotics to take care of any infection. Otoendoscopes and lasers are often used to treat the cholesteatomas and generally produce good prognoses if the condition is caught early enough. In the event that the bones in the middle ear are damaged due to a particularly large cholesteatoma, then a second surgery may be necessary for managing those repairs.

Avoiding Cholesteatomas

People who experience ear infections should have the conditions diagnosed and treated by a physician. This ensures that the ear is going to heal properly whenever possible and avoid the development of an environment conducive to the growth of cholesteatomas. Similarly, any trauma to the ear, noticeable ear odors, drainage, or uncomfortable sensations in the ears should be looked at by a physician familiar with cholesteatomas.

Risks of a Cholesteatoma

Untreated, the mass could continue to grow in size. A large cholesteatoma can cause vertigo, weakened facial muscles, or paralysis. In extreme cases, hearing loss could occur or the infection might spread to the brain and form an abscess or meningitis. Therefore, seeking medical treatment for a suspected cholesteatoma is critical for preventing certain side effects.

Cholesteatomas can develop any time. Arranging for a physician’s care as soon as possible decreases the chance that one of the risks of an untreated cholesteatoma could occur. If the condition is confirmed, then general anesthesia is given prior to the removal of the mass for the patient’s comfort. Following the procedure, patients might experience a plugged-up sensation, but this usually resolves itself within a few weeks. Normal hearing should return, making it possible to continue activities without having to deal with the symptoms of a cholesteatoma. If careful steps are taken regarding activities or health issues that concern the ears, it is possible to avoid the development of subsequent cholesteatomas.

Cholesteatoma UCI Head Neck 3 - Cholesteatoma