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An ear mass is a lump, which may be in the internal or external ear. Ear masses can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions, ranging from benign cysts of the ear to neuromas, tumors which grow on the facial nerve and sometimes invade the ear. Treatment is usually supervised by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician, and may also involve an oncologist and other medical specialists, depending on the nature of the mass.
Masses on the external ear are commonly visible and may be palpable. For example, if someone develops a cyst in the earlobe as a result of infection, it can be seen and felt easily. Masses inside the ear can usually only be seen with special equipment. Someone with an ear mass may experience symptoms like one-sided tinnitus, hearing impairment in one ear only, dizziness, and a feeling of itching or irritation in the ear. The mass may also produce a strong smelling discharge.
One common form of ear tumor is an exostosis or osteoma. These tumors consist of new bone that grows over existing bone, commonly in response to stress, such as frequent exposure to cold water. This type of ear mass can be treated surgically. It is also possible to develop polyps or cysts inside the ear, some of which may be benign in nature. An ENT can examine the ear, take a sample for biopsy to determine what is causing it, and make treatment recommendations.
Some more unusual types of ear masses include paragangliomas, a type of growth that were once known as glomus tumors, and cholesteatomas. Cholesteatomas, which are destructive growths, can erode the bone inside the ear if they are left untreated, and can be fatal. Fortunately, these malignant masses are usually identified early, allowing a physician to take prompt action to remove the growth before it has a chance to cause damage to the ear.
The ear is close to the brain, and a mass in the ear can be a cause for concern; if malignant, such growths may be able to eventually reach the brain. For this reason, it is important to seek treatment for any symptoms or masses which are noticed, and to follow through on diagnostic recommendations so that the nature of the mass can be determined. Once the mass has been thoroughly investigated, the physician will be able to make recommendations about how to proceed with treatment.