Surgery for Cholesteatoma

This webpage will give you information about surgery for a cholesteatoma. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is a cholesteatoma?

A cholesteatoma is where a sac of dead skin cells forms in a pocket in the middle ear. The cholesteatoma will slowly get bigger and eventually fill the middle ear and mastoid bone (see figure 1). The cholesteatoma can cause an unpleasant-smelling discharge and loss of hearing.

Cholesteatoma Diagram

Figure 1:

What are the benefits of surgery?

The aims of surgery are to remove the cholesteatoma and stop the discharge. It may be possible to improve your hearing at the same time.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Regular cleaning and antibiotics will help to keep any unpleasant-smelling discharge or infection under control.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes between two and two and a half hours. 

Your surgeon will make a cut in front of or behind your ear. They will remove bone from around the cholesteatoma to see where it has spread to and remove it.

Your surgeon may need to remove the bone of your ear canal. If this happens, they will shape the bone behind your ear (mastoid bone) into a cavity that opens into your ear and make a graft for your eardrum.

What complications can happen?

General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots

Specific complications

  • Hearing loss
  • Damage to the facial nerve
  • Change of taste
  • Dizziness
  • Tinnitus
  • Ear discharge
  • Allergic reaction

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the following day. 

You should stay off work for about three weeks. 

If your surgeon needed to shape your mastoid bone into a cavity, you will probably need to go to the outpatient clinic several times in the first few months until the cavity has healed completely. 

Most people are able to swim after surgery. 

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice. 

If the bone of your ear canal was not removed, some cholesteatoma may be left behind.


A cholesteatoma can damage your ear and cause serious complications. Surgery is the only way you can be cured.


Author: Miss Ruth Capper MD FRCS (ORL-HNS)

Illustrations: Hannah Ravenscroft RM

This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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