A cholesteatoma is an abnormal growth of skin behind the eardrum. Although it's not cancerous, it can lead to further complications if left untreated so it's important to seek treatment from a medical professional.


Symptoms can include:

  • Hearing loss
  • A smelly, watery discharge from the ear
  • Discomfort or pain in or behind your ear
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure
  • Vertigo (dizziness or spinning)
  • Facial weakness or twitching


A cholesteatoma typically happens when there has been an infection of, or injury to, the eardrum, causing a weak area to form there. When you have poor function of the Eustachian tube (that connects your nose and throat to the middle ear), this can cause pressure which causes the weak area on the eardrum to pull back into the middle ear, creating a sac or pocket. When this pocket starts to accumulate skin cells and other waste materials, it becomes a cholesteatoma. If it is not removed, it will continue to build up and grow.


Visual inspection (otoscopy) of the eardrum is the first stage in diagnosis. A comprehensive hearing test will determine if you have any conductive hearing loss which can be associated with a cholesteatoma.

You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist who may request further scans.

Treatment and prevention

Usually, treatment for cholesteatoma will involve surgery under general anaesthetic in order to remove it and prevent any additional problems that can happen as it grows.

Cholesteatomas cannot be prevented but prompt treatment of any ear infections you or your child may have, might reduce the risk of developing the condition.