A cholesteatoma is an abmormal growth of skin behind the eardrum. Although it’s not cancerous, it can lead to further complications if left untreated – so it’s important to seek treatment with your GP
Symptoms of cholesteatoma
A cholesteatoma will usually affect one ear, with symptoms including:
Feeling of fullness or pressure
Muscle weakness on one side of the face
Symptoms will be quite mild to begin with, but can continue to worsen as the cholesteatoma grows, and can potentially lead to further problems like dizziness and problems with balance, as well as some more serious conditions.
Causes of cholesteatoma
A cholesteatoma typically happens when there has been some damage to your eardrum, after injury or an infection, which causes a weak area in the eardrum. When you have poor Eustachian tube function, this can cause a build-up of negative pressure which causes the weak area to pull back into the middle ear, creating a sac or pocket.
When this pocket starts to accumulate skin cells and other waste materials it becomes a cholesteatoma. Without its removal, it will continue to build up and grow.
Very rarely, you can be born with the condition.
You should see your GP if you experience these symptoms. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and have a good look in your ear with an instrument called an otoscope, which allows them to see the condition of your eardrum more clearly. They may also test your hearing.
If your GP suspects you have a cholesteatoma, they’ll usually refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist who might want to perform further tests or imaging scans (like a CT) to get a better look of the internal structures of the ear.
Treatment for cholesteatoma
To start with, your GP might prescribe treatment for an ear infection and ask to see you again at a later date.
But usually, treatment for cholesteatoma will involve surgery under general anaesthetic in order to remove it and prevent any additional problems that can happen as it grows.
Once it has been removed, you will need to attend regular follow-up appointments in order to monitor your ear health and look out for any signs of it returning.
Preventing the condition
Cholesteatomas cannot be prevented, but prompt treatment of any ear infections you or your child may have might reduce the risk of developing the condition.
If you ever have any concerns about any ear symptoms you may have, it’s best to go and see your GP.
It is possible for a cholosteatoma to come back. It can also develop in the other ear (but it cannot be transferred from the infected ear). That’s why it’s important that you attend regular follow-up appointments to monitor any changes in your ears, and ensure prompt treatment if it comes back.
Left untreated, cholesteatoma can become serious. The good news is that it is treatable, so if you think you have this condition, it’s important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Some people may experience discomfort in their ear which can feel more severe at times.
People with cholesteatoma will usually need to undergo surgery in order to remove the growth from the ear.
Generally, symptoms include a watery, smelly discharge from the ear and gradual hearing loss in the affected ear. You might experience some slight discomfort in your ear.