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Cholesteatoma: Care Instructions

Anatomy of ear, showing ear canal, middle ear, and eustachian tube, with detail of growth behind eardrum in middle ear.


A cholesteatoma (say "kuh-LESS-tee-uh-TOH-muh") is a growth (cyst) inside your ear. The most common cause is a problem with the eustachian tube. Once the growth starts, it can keep growing and cause ear infections. You may feel pain and pressure in or near your ear. You also may have bad-smelling fluid that drains from your ear. You may lose hearing in that ear. Hearing may come back after the growth is removed.

Your doctor may do tests to find out the size and shape of the growth. Your doctor may clean your ear and prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection. In most cases, people have surgery to remove the growth. After surgery, you will need follow-up care to be sure the growth and infections don't come back.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), as needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • To ease pain, put a warm face cloth or a heating pad set on low on your ear. You may have some drainage from the ear.
  • If you are going to have the growth removed, your doctor will give you instructions for care before and after surgery.
  • Do not put anything into your ear canal. For example, do not use a cotton swab to clean the inside of your ear. It can damage the inside of your ear. If you think you have something inside your ear, ask your doctor to check it.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain gets worse.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from the ear.
    • A fever.
    The side of your face seems to sag.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You feel dizzy.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.