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What is Cholesteatoma?

We have all had earache and most of us have suffered painful ear infections and possibly worse.

BUT, what happens when those symptoms don’t go, aren’t treated properly or promptly or you don’t get the review that is required?

Emily Brown looks at the complicated ear condition known as Cholesteatoma.

What is Cholesteatoma?

Cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth that occurs in the middle section of the ear. The skin growth is made up of dead skin cells that can multiply to the point where they begin to affect your hearing if left untreated.

These are non-cancerous growths but the can cause problems if left untreated. Typically, only one ear will be affected.


If the skin growth is small, the symptoms will be mild however these may become more severe if left untreated.

Symptoms may include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Recurring ear infections (including discharge from the ear)
  • Tinnitus
  • Vertigo

In very severe cases brain abscess may be possible.

How are they caused?

Recurring ear infections are the most common cause of cholesteatomas however they can happen spontaneously.

There are two types of cholesteatomas:

  1. Congenital cholesteatomas – skin cell filled cysts which grow in the middle of the tympanic membrane (this separates the middle ear for the external ear). These usually occur spontaneously without any history of ear infections.
  2. Acquired cholesteatomas – where the skin cells grow in the tympanic membrane which expands into the middle ear.


If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it is wise to consult your GP who can review your ear with an otoscope which will allow them to look deep in your ear for any signs of growing masses. If this doesn’t produce any obvious symptoms, you may be referred for a CT scan to detect any growth


Symptoms of a cholesteatoma can be similar to those of a simple ear infection, and there are occasions when the condition is misdiagnosed. If the cholesteatoma is misdiagnosed and left untreated, complications can occur, sometimes severe.

Antibiotics are often prescribed for cholesteatomas when they have been misdiagnosed as ear infections. Antibiotics will not eliminate a cholesteatoma and surgery under general anaesthetic is usually needed to treat.

In severe cases, if misdiagnosed and/or untreated, cholesteatomas can begin to spread into the inner ear which can cause permanent hearing loss or brain damage.

Swain & Co solicitors have experience of cases where cholesteatomas have been misdiagnosed or not treated promptly.

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