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What Are the Symptoms of Cholesteatoma?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Symptoms of cholesteatoma often begin with dizziness and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the affected ear. Some degree of hearing loss is also common among those with this medical condition. In some cases, a foul-smelling fluid may leak out of the ear and may indicate the presence of an infection. Additional symptoms of cholesteatoma may include pain, numbness, or muscle weakness on the affected side of the head. If left untreated, cholesteatoma can lead to brain abscesses, deafness, or even death.

Chronic dizziness and a feeling of pressure in the ear are typically among the first symptoms of cholesteatoma. Many patients will also notice a discharge coming out of the ear, particularly when lying down. This discharge may have a foul odor, and in some cases it may also contain pus. There may be pain or discomfort behind the ear that tends to become worse at night. Muscle weakness may occur on the affected side of the face and head in some cases of cholesteatoma.

While a cholesteatoma is a type of non-cancerous tumor, serious problems may develop if it is left untreated. Damage can occur to the small bones responsible for hearing, especially if recurrent ear infections are an issue. Meningitis, deafness, or facial paralysis may occur unless this condition is treated promptly. Minor symptoms of cholesteatoma may be able to be successfully treated by a professional ear cleaning combined with antibiotic therapy. More severe cases usually require surgical intervention.

A mastoidectomy is the usual treatment method when symptoms of cholesteatoma become severe enough to cause persistent problems. In this procedure, the growth is surgically removed from the mastoid bone, and in some cases a portion of the bone itself must be removed in order to adequately treat the condition. Most doctors will attempt to clear up the infection through the use of antibiotics before deciding on the most appropriate surgical method to remove the tumor.

In many cases, symptoms of cholesteatoma do not return after the condition has been successfully treated, although it is possible that the tumor will grow back after a period of time. Some doctors may monitor the ear at periodic intervals, while others may simply recommend a return to the office until bothersome symptoms return. For those who have recurrent ear infections or pain when water comes into contact with the ear following treatment, the chances are higher that the growth has returned.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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