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Cholesteatoma in Children : Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Guide

Cholesteatoma is a relatively rare but significant condition that can affect children. It is characterized by the presence of an abnormal growth or cyst-like structure in the middle ear.

Cholesteatomas can lead to various complications if left untreated, including hearing loss and damage to surrounding structures. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of cholesteatoma in children, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Cholesteatoma in Children : Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  1. Understanding Cholesteatoma in Children:

    1. Definition: Cholesteatoma is an abnormal, non-cancerous growth that occurs in the middle ear. It is typically characterized by the accumulation of dead skin cells and debris, forming a cyst-like structure.
    2. Causes: Cholesteatoma in children often develops as a result of a combination of factors, including:
      1. Congenital: Some children may be born with cholesteatoma, known as congenital cholesteatoma, due to abnormal migration of skin cells during fetal development.
      2. Acquired: The majority of cholesteatomas in children are acquired, meaning they develop after birth. The most common causes include frequent ear infections, chronic eustachian tube dysfunction, or a history of traumatic ear injuries.
  2. Symptoms of Cholesteatoma in Children:

    Cholesteatoma may present with various symptoms in children, which can vary depending on the size and location of the growth. Common symptoms include:

    1. Ear-related Symptoms:

      1. Persistent ear pain or discomfort
      2. Drainage from the ear, which may be foul-smelling or contain pus
      3. Feeling of fullness or pressure in the affected ear
      4. Hearing loss or difficulties in understanding speech
      5. Tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears)
    2. General Symptoms:

    1. Recurrent ear infections
    2. Fever, particularly in cases of infection

    It is essential for parents to be vigilant and seek medical attention if their child experiences any of these symptoms.

  3. Diagnosis of Cholesteatoma in Children:

    Diagnosing cholesteatoma in children requires a thorough evaluation by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). The diagnostic process may include:

    Diagnosing cholesteatoma in children requires a thorough evaluation by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist). The diagnostic process may include:

    1. Medical History: The doctor will inquire about the child’s symptoms, previous ear infections, and any history of trauma.
    2. Physical Examination: The otolaryngologist will examine the child’s ear using an otoscope, a handheld instrument that allows visualization of the ear canal and eardrum.
    3. Imaging Studies: High-resolution imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be employed to provide detailed information about the extent and location of the cholesteatoma.
  4. Treatment Options for Cholesteatoma in Children:

    The management of cholesteatoma in children typically involves surgical intervention. The main goals of treatment are to remove the cholesteatoma, eradicate any infection, and restore or preserve hearing. The specific treatment approach may depend on several factors, including the size, location, and severity of the cholesteatoma. Common treatment options include:

    1. Tympanoplasty: This surgical procedure aims to repair the eardrum and reconstruct the ossicles (tiny bones) of the middle ear. It is often performed for small or limited cholesteatomas that have not caused significant damage.
    2. Mastoidectomy: In cases where the cholesteatoma has spread to the mastoid bone or surrounding structures, a mastoidectomy may be necessary. This procedure involves removing the infected bone and tissue to eradicate the cholesteatoma.
    3. Canal-Wall-Up Or Canal-Wall-Down Procedures: These surgical techniques may be used to remove large or recurrent cholesteatomas. Canal-wall-up procedures preserve the ear canal, while canal-wall-down procedures involve removing a portion of the ear canal and creating a mastoid cavity.
  5. Postoperative Care and Follow-up:

    After surgery, proper postoperative care is crucial to prevent complications and promote healing. This may involve regular cleaning of the ear, administration of antibiotics, and follow-up visits to monitor the child’s progress. Hearing tests may also be conducted to assess the outcome of the surgery.


Cholesteatoma in children is a condition that requires prompt medical attention and appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and intervention are essential to prevent complications such as hearing loss and damage to surrounding structures. Parents should be aware of the symptoms associated with cholesteatoma and consult an otolaryngologist if they suspect their child may be affected. With timely and effective treatment, the prognosis for cholesteatoma in children can be favorable, and long-term complications can be minimized.


  1. Schilder AG, Bhutta MF, Butler CC, et al. Chronic suppurative otitis media. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016;2:16063. doi: 10.1038/nrdp.2016.63
  2. Teele DW, Klein JO, Rosner B. Epidemiology of otitis media during the first seven years of life in children in greater Boston: a prospective, cohort study. J Infect Dis. 1989;160(1):83-94. doi: 10.1093/infdis/160.1.83
  3. Kay DJ, Nelson M, Rosenfeld RM. Meta-analysis of tympanostomy tube sequelae. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2001;124(4):374-380. doi: 10.1067/mhn.2001.114136
  4. Semaan MT, Megerian CA. Contemporary perspectives on the diagnosis and management of cholesteatoma in children. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2013;270(3):791-798. doi: 10.1007/s00405-012-2197-5
  5. Tharpe AM, Sladen DP. Pediatric cholesteatoma. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2002;35(4):779-793, vi. doi: 10.1016/s0030-6665(02)00030-9
  6. Shinn JR, Kim SY, Brooks LJ, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Tympanostomy tubes in children. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;149(1 Suppl):S1-S35. doi: 10.1177/0194599813499817

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 21, 2023

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