Cholesteatoma affects the middle ear and is characterised by an abnormal growth that typically starts behind the eardrum. The growth is composed of cysts and skin, and it will grow in the ear canal if left untreated. This can cause permanent damage to the middle ear, and if an infection takes hold, it can spread to your nasal passages and brain. Here's what you need to know about cholesteatoma:
Causes And Symptoms
Cholesteatoma can be caused by a perforated eardrum, and the condition can also be present at birth, but this is not common. The most common cause of cholesteatoma is a history of ear infections due to the Eustachian tube not working well. This tube is responsible for maintaining air pressure within the middle ear and allows air to enter the middle ear and fluid to drain out of the middle ear and down the back of your throat. There are several reasons why your Eustachian tube may not work well, including a blockage in the tube, allergies and chronic sinusitis. Without sufficient air in the middle ear, a vacuum can be created, and this can lead to tissue from the eardrum being sucked through to the inner ear, which allows a cholesteatoma to form.
Symptoms of cholesteatoma include ear pain, feeling pressure within the ear and hearing loss, which can be partial or complete. You may also experience a foul-smelling discharge from the ear, and as the condition progresses, sufferers can experience dizziness and muscle weakness around the affected ear.
Diagnosis And Treatment
An ENT doctor can diagnose cholesteatoma by examining your ear canal with an otoscope. This allows them to determine if there is an abnormal tissue growth within the middle ear, but if they are unsure of the extent of the growth, they can arrange for you to have CT scan to determine if the surrounding bones have been damaged or whether other parts of your ear appear inflamed or damaged.
Treatment for cholesteatoma is dependent on the size and severity of the growth. For a small growth, your doctor may recommend treating it conservatively with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory ear drops. They will monitor the cholesteatoma regularly to ensure it's not growing so large that it's becoming bothersome for you, but when it does grow and become problematic, you will require surgery to remove the growth. This is carried out under a general anaesthetic, and in addition to removing the cholesteatoma, your surgeon can reconstruct any bones within your middle ear that have been damaged by the growth.
If you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with cholesteatoma, have your ears examined by an ENT doctor as soon as possible.