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Surgery for cholesteatoma

3-minute read

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.

Illustration showing a cholesteatoma in the middle ear.
A cholesteatoma in the middle ear.

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.

What complications can occur?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • unsightly scarring
  • blood clot in the leg
  • blood clot in the lung

Complications specific to this operation

  • hearing loss
  • numbness of your ear
  • damage to the facial nerve
  • change of taste
  • dizziness
  • tinnitus (ringing in your ear)
  • ear discharge
  • allergic reaction

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.


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 ©

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Last reviewed: September 2021

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