What is Cholesteatoma?
Cholesteatoma occurs when a large collection of skin cells occur deep within the ear. This growth of skin is where cholesteatoma gets its name, toma being the word for swelling or tumor. Fortunately, cholesteatoma presents as a non-cancerous cyst.
Cholesteatoma can be either genetic, known as congenital cholesteatoma, or develop later in life, known as acquired cholesteatoma. Both are caused by keratinizing cells in the temporal bone. Abnormal growths usually present in the middle ear behind the eardrum.
Signs and Symptoms
A cholesteatoma usually only affects one ear.
- Fluid drainage in the ear
- Foul-smelling drainage
- Feeling pressure or fullness in the ear
- Hearing loss
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the face
Developing congenital cholesteatoma is incredibly rare. However, it is possible to acquire it in adulthood.
- Re-occurring middle ear infections
- Poor eustachian tube function
- Being of Caucasian descent (incidence is rarest in Indian Asians)
- Being born with craniofacial syndromes such as cleft lip
A doctor will take a look inside your ear using an otoscope to determine if you have cholesteatoma. They can see the cholesteatoma, which often looks like a cyst made of skin cells or a mass of blood vessels.
If the cholesteatoma is too small to be detected, a CT scan may be ordered.
What are the Treatment Options?
Treatment for cholesteatoma often involves surgery for severe cases. However, if caught early, it can be treated through a round of antibiotics, ear drops, and cleaning your ear carefully.
The goal of the treatment is to reduce the chances of an infection occurring, reduce inflammation, and drain the ear of the cyst.
What If It Goes Untreated?
Surgery is perhaps the best way to treat cholesteatomas that won't go away, which is, unfortunately, quite common. Cholesteatomas tend to grow bigger and can eventually lead to:
- Destruction of surrounding tissues and bones
- Permanent facial nerve damage, including numbness
- Severe infections such as meningitis (although rare)
- Chronic ear infections
- Swelling of the inner ear
While medication won’t treat the nasal deformity, if you are only dealing with mild symptoms then your ENT doctor may simply recommend taking medications to help better control the symptoms you are experiencing. Decongestants are one type of medication that can help reduce swelling within the nasal cavity, making it easier to breathe.
Another medication that is often prescribed is an antihistamine. This is more common if you are also dealing with allergy symptoms that impact your ability to breathe. Those patients exhibiting symptoms such as nasal congestion or a runny nose may benefit most from this type of medication.
If someone is dealing with a severely deviated septum that blocks or partially blocks a nostril, or if symptoms aren’t properly controlled with medication, then surgery may be the best option.
Surgery is the only way to actually repair a deviated septum. This procedure, known as a septoplasty, is performed by an ENT specialist who will make small incisions within the septum to reposition and realign the cartilage. In some instances, your ENT doctor will also instruct as to whether or not a rhinoplasty (“a nose job”) is needed to improve the overall shape and size of the nose after the deviated septum is repositioned.
Practice Good Hygiene
Some ear infections occur as a result of a cold or flu, so it’s important that you protect yourself from viral infections to reduce your risk for an ear infection, too. This means practicing proper handwashing, avoiding those who are sick, and not touching your mouth or face.
Find Allergy Relief
Allergies can also cause some serious issues. If you find yourself getting ear infections around the wintertime this could be the result of allergies. To prevent swelling of the Eustachian tubes you should find an allergy nasal spray that can better control your symptoms and
Get the Flu Shot
As we mentioned above, getting the flu can also lead to an ear infection. So if you are someone who notoriously finds themselves battling an ear infection after the flu, the best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get the flu shot. The flu shot should be administered each year to those 6 months and older.
Avoid Cigarette Smoke
Smoking can also cause the Eustachian tubes of the ears to swell. This is why you should quit smoking if you currently smoke. It’s also particularly important for newborns and young children to avoid any environmental pollutants or smoky areas, as they are already particularly susceptible to ear infections and these environments can make it worse.
Breastfeed Your Newborn
Since children under 3 years old are particularly vulnerable to ear infections, one of the best ways to protect them is to breastfeed them. This is because breastmilk contains antibodies that can protect the baby from infections, including ear infections. It is recommended that women breastfeed their baby for at least the first six months, but can continue to breastfeed as long as they want.
If you are dealing with recurring or severe ear infections it’s always best to play it safe and to see a qualified ENT professional for an evaluation. Recurring ear infections can be a sign that something more is going on and warrants having it checked out.
What are the symptoms of airplane ear?
Anyone who has ever experienced this knows the symptoms. Most people experience mild to moderate ear pain, fullness, or muffled hearing while flying. Sometimes these symptoms can become severe, resulting in intense ear pressure, vertigo, ringing in the ears, and even significant (but temporary) hearing loss.
Why does airplane ear happen?
Since you are flying at high altitudes in an airplane, the pressure of the air versus the pressure of the middle ear don’t align, which impacts how the eardrum vibrates. Since air pressure changes rather quickly, particularly during takeoff and landing, this is often when people experience bouts of airplane ear. Some people may find that yawning helps open the eustachian tubes to equalize pressure in the ear to alleviate symptoms.
Of course, flying in an airplane isn’t the only time that you may experience this problem. If you are in the mountains, ride an elevator or go scuba diving, you may also notice that your ears get plugged up. This is usually a minor occurrence of ear barotrauma.
Some people may be more prone to airplane ear than others. Newborns and toddlers are at risk because they have smaller eustachian tubes. Other risk factors include ear or sinus infections, allergies, or having a cold.
Are there ways to improve airplane ear?
Fortunately, there are certain techniques and tricks to make dealing with airplane ear a little less painful. Most people have tried the Valsalva maneuver, in which you pinch your nose and keep your mouth closed and then gently blow through the nose. You may also chew gum or suck on a piece of candy. If you believe that your airplane ear is caused by allergies or sinus infections, try taking a decongestant or using a nasal spray before takeoff and landing.
If you find yourself dealing with ear pain or changes in hearing that last for days after flying, it’s important that you call your ENT doctor right away. Even the most minor symptoms may require medical attention, so don’t ignore them.
It’s important to look to your environment and your lifestyle for clues as to what’s going on. For one, if you were out singing or talking in a loud club the night before you may have simply strained your vocal cords. If you have seasonal allergies such as hay fever, you may notice that you wake up with persistent scratchy or sore throats several months out of the year. If your bedroom is particularly dry, especially during the colder months, this could be another reason you wake up with sore throats.
There are a host of infections that also cause sore throats; however, they are often short-lived and don’t persist for more than 10 days. Viral infections are often to blame, and they will go away without treatment (antibiotics will not be effective against the common cold or influenza virus). People who deal with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) often complain of a scratchy or sore throat. If you are also dealing with heartburn or acid reflux two or more times a week, this could be the culprit.
- Waking up with a sore throat
- Persistent morning headaches
- Waking up tired despite a full night’s sleep
- Loud, chronic snoring
- Increased mood swings
- Trouble concentrating and poor memory
If you experience recurring or persistent sore throats it’s always a good idea to see your ENT doctor for a proper diagnosis so you know how to best treat your symptoms. Since some infections such as strep can be dangerous to both kids and adults, it’s important to know when to come in for treatment.
- You should see an ENT doctor right away if:
- You are having trouble swallowing or breathing
- You have extremely painful or swollen lymph nodes
- Your sore throat is accompanied by a high fever
- Your sore throat persists for more than a week
- You have trouble sleeping due to swallowing or breathing issues
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