A cholesteatoma is not a tumor, but a growth of skin behind the eardrum (in the middle ear space and/or mastoid bone). Once the cholesteatoma is large enough, it can cause the bones of the middle ear to malfunction, causing hearing loss. Additionally, there is often foul-smelling ear drainage. If left untreated, further cholesteatoma growth can cause permanent hearing loss and facial muscle paralysis.

Symptoms include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Odorous fluid draining from the ear
  • Pain behind or in the ear
  • Pressure in the ear
  • Dizziness


An examination by an OSU Wexner Medical Center neurotologist can confirm the presence of a cholesteatoma. Hearing and balance tests and CT scans help determine the hearing level in the ear and the damage caused by the cholesteatoma.


Treatment may begin with antibiotics, ear cleansing and ear drops. Eliminating any infection should stop the fluid drainage in the ear. Cholesteatomas require surgical removal in almost all cases. Left untreated, complications including brain injury, deafness and meningitis can arise.

By surgically removing the cholesteatoma, the infection can be eliminated. If hearing is an issue, a second surgery is sometimes necessary to reconstruct the damaged bones in the middle ear and restore hearing.

Surgery is performed under a general anesthetic and on an outpatient basis. Some patients may require an overnight stay or longer. Antibiotic treatment for infection is sometimes necessary. Normal activities can be resumed after one to two weeks, but strenuous activity is to be avoided for at least one month. Follow-up visits are usually advised to monitor for recurrence. Some patients may need to have regular cleansing visits to guard against reinfection.

Why Choose Ohio State

The Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center has been successfully evaluating and treating patients with ear-related issues for decades. Many of our patients are referred to us by local ENTs due to our outstanding reputation.

A dedicated testing staff: We have a dedicated, knowledgeable, highly experienced staff that conducts our patient hearing testing, providing a solid base of information to assist with the patient’s diagnosis.

Super specialists: Among our physicians are a group of neurotologists who are often referred to as “super specialists.” We are skilled in treating all diseases of the ear, medically or surgically. Many of the neurotologists in the state of Ohio are found here.

Nationally recognized: Wexner Medical Center is recognized by U.S.News & World Report one of the nation’s best hospitals for care of the ear, nose and throat.

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