Definition A benign ear growth is any abnormal growth on the ear that does not represent cancer. It can be caused by many different conditions.
What is going on in the body? The most common type of benign ear growth is a cyst. A cyst is a closed sac that can be filled with matter. Cysts often form in the space behind the eardrum.
Benign ear tumours are another cause of a benign ear growth. These tumours come from the tissues that form the ear. A benign tumour is not cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? A benign ear growth may cause no symptoms at all. The most common symptom is a gradual decline in hearing, or hearing impairment. A person may also have drainage of infected material from the ear occasionally. Other signs are paralysis of the face, caused by pressure on a nerve, or dizziness.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? Long-term effects may be minimal in some cases. If the ear growth is not treated, a person may have a permanent hearing impairment. There can also be frequent ear infections of the ear canal, known as chronic otitis externa.
Cysts may also cause chronic ear infections, or chronic otitis media, and hearing impairment. Cysts can also spread, causing facial nerve paralysis and loss of inner ear balance. Deafness and infection of the inside of the skull are possible.
What are the risks to others? Benign ear tumours and cysts are not contagious to others.
Treatment for some cysts requires surgery. If they are small, they can be removed through the ear canal. If they are large, the base of the skull must be opened. The eardrum is lifted and the cyst is removed. Some cysts may return after surgery. Sometimes additional reconstructive surgery is needed.
What are the side effects of the treatments? Major side effects related to the ear surgery are rare, but may include:
rarely, facial nerve paralysis or problems with a person's sense of taste
What happens after treatment for the condition? Antibiotic and corticosteroid eardrops are often used to help the ear canal skin heal. If benign tumours are removed from the eardrum or the middle ear space, the ear canal is packed with materials and ointments. Repeat visits to the surgeon to remove the material and check on healing may be needed.
What are the causes and risks of the condition? Some cysts may be due to inherited problems. Problems with the ear drainage tubes, chronic ear infections, or other ear inflammation can also cause cyst development. The cause for most benign ear tumours is not known.
What can be done to prevent the condition? If the cause is genetic, there is no way to prevent the problem. Those with ear drainage tube problems may need surgery to improve or bypass the tube. Surgery to remove an overgrowth of tissue in the upper part of the throat may help in some cases.
Treating allergies, ear infections or otitis, and chronic sinus infections may also help prevent cysts. An ear tube, or artificial tube to equalise pressure, may need to be inserted into the ear.
How is the condition diagnosed? Benign ear tumours or cysts in the ear canal or middle ear can be seen during examination. A biopsy may be needed. A biopsy is the surgical removal of a piece of tissue for analysis. Hearing tests can help find any hearing loss that is present. A special x-ray test may be needed if surgery is planned.
How is the condition monitored? After a benign ear growth is removed, no further treatment is necessary in most cases. Hearing tests two to three months after the operation can detect hearing impairment. The person's doctor may also check periodically to see if another growth has developed.
Those with certain types of cysts need to be followed closely, as the problem can return. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor at once.
Author: Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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