A cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth that develops in the middle ear. Typically, it begins as a collection of dead skin cells, and eventually it develops into a pocket behind the eardrum that resembles a cyst. Cholesteatomas can severely impact a person’s hearing, balance and function of facial muscles.
How Common Are Cholesteatomas?
Cholesteatomas are quite rare. Approximately 9-12.6 out of every 100,000 adults and 3-15 out of every 100,000 children develop them. Cholesteatomas tend to run in families, which is why experts theorize there may be an inherited genetic link.
One study found that acquired cholesteatomas are 1.4x more common in men than women. They also tend to occur more in Caucasian people.
Only 2-4% of cholesteatomas in children ages four to six are present at birth. Children born with a cleft palate have a higher risk of developing a cholesteatoma.
What Are the Symptoms of Cholesteatomas?
In most cases, the symptoms of cholesteatoma are fairly mild at the onset of the condition, but become more severe as the mass grows larger. Possible symptoms include:
- Hearing loss.
- Ear pain.
- Frequent, recurring ear infections.
- Drainage from the ear.
Dizziness, like when running at Steeplechase Park.
- Fullness in the ear.
- Weak facial muscles on the side of the affected ear.
What Causes Cholesteatomas?
Most cases of cholesteatomas are acquired rather than congenital. Possible causes include:
- Chronic ear infections.
- Skull or facial bone abnormalities that are present at birth.
- Negative pressure in the Eustachian tubes.
- Perforation in the eardrum that allows skin cells and earwax through.
How Are Cholesteatomas Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose a cholesteatoma, a primary care physician will take a medical history and conduct a physical exam using an otoscope, which is a tool that combines a magnifying glass with a flashlight.
If the doctor suspects a cholesteatoma, they will place a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who will order further tests, including a CT scan. A hearing test may also be conducted if hearing loss is suspected.
When to See a Doctor for a Cholesteatoma
If you develop any of the symptoms of a cholesteatoma, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. It is important to seek prompt treatment to prevent complications. For more information or to schedule an appointment with an ear expert, call Texas ENT & Allergy today.