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Cholesteatoma (Skin Cyst in Middle Ear)

A cholesteatoma is a skin cyst in the middle ear and/or mastoid bone that can cause chronic middle ear infections and damage the hearing structures of the ear. In the United States, this rare condition affects less than one out of 16,000 children. Some conditions such as cleft palate can cause cholesteatoma to occur more often.

Symptoms of a cholesteatoma include:

  • Persistent ear infection in one ear
  • Pain or numbness in the ear or around the ear
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Dizziness or vertigo


Diagnosing cholesteatoma requires careful examination supplemented by advanced imaging. In order for the most accurate diagnosis to be made, our team of pediatric otolaryngologists (ENTs) at the Johns Hopkins Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology will arrange for advanced diagnostic imaging, like MRIs and CT scans for your child.

If your child needs to be sedated for these tests, our staff of pediatric anesthesiologists has the experience and gentle know-how to manage your child's need during these tests.

Your child's evaluation will include:

  • Your child's complete medical history
  • Thorough physical examination
  • Diagnostic studies may be ordered, including:
    • Audiogram: This is a hearing test
    • Imaging studies (CT scans)
    • Lab tests, as needed


Your doctor will probably recommend surgery to remove the cholesteatoma. This is done to remove the cyst-like mass and protect the ear from further damage. There are several types of surgeries for treating a cholesteatoma.

Your pediatric ENT may recommend a tympanoplasty or a tympanomastoidectomy. The cholesteatoma(s) will be removed, and the hearing bones and ear drum may be rebuilt.

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Please call us at 443-997-6467 (443-997-OHNS) to make an appointment at any of our three locations.