Surgery for cholesteatoma
This page will give you information about surgery for a cholesteatoma. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.
What is a cholesteatoma?
A cholesteatoma is a sac of dead skin cells that forms in a pocket in your middle ear. The cholesteatoma will slowly get larger and eventually fill your middle ear and mastoid bone. The cholesteatoma can cause an unpleasant-smelling discharge and loss of hearing.
What are the benefits of surgery?
The aim is to remove the cholesteatoma and stop the discharge. It may be possible to improve your hearing at the same time.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
Surgery is the only way to remove the cholesteatoma.
Regular cleaning and antibiotics will help to keep any unpleasant-smelling discharge or infection under control.
What does the operation involve?
The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 2 to 3 hours.
Your surgeon will make a cut in front of or behind your ear. They will remove bone from around the cholesteatoma to see where it has spread to, and remove it.
Your surgeon may need to remove the bone of your ear canal. If this happens, they will shape the bone behind your ear (mastoid bone) into a cavity that opens into your ear.
How can I prepare myself for the operation?
If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.
Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight.
Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
If you have not had the coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to Covid-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.
What complications can occur?
Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.
General complications of any operation
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
- blood clot in the leg
- blood clot in the lung
- chest infection
Complications specific to this operation
- hearing loss
- numbness of your ear
- damage to the facial nerve
- change of taste
- tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
- ear discharge
- allergic reaction
Consequences of this procedure
- unsightly scarring of your skin
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the next day.
You should be able to return to work after about 3 weeks.
If your surgeon needed to shape your mastoid bone into a cavity, you will probably need to come back to the clinic several times in the first few months until the cavity has healed completely.
Protect your ear from water, using cotton wool and Vaseline, and do not swim until your surgeon has told you that your ear has healed.
Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities sooner. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
Most people make a good recovery. However, if the bone of your ear canal was not removed, some cholesteatoma may be left behind.
A cholesteatoma can damage your ear and cause serious complications. Surgery is the only way you can be cured.IMPORTANT INFORMATION
The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.
For more on how this information was prepared, click here.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2022