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Benign ear cyst or tumor

Benign ear cysts are noncancerous lumps or growths in the ear.

Alternative Names

Osteomas; Exostoses; Tumor - ear; Cysts - ear; Ear cysts; Ear tumors; Bony tumor of the ear canal

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Sebaceous cysts are the most common type of cysts seen in the ear. They are bulging, sac-like collections of dead skin cells and oils produced by oil glands in the skin.

They commonly occur:

  • Behind the ear
  • In the ear canal
  • In the earlobe
  • On the scalp

The exact cause is unknown, but cysts may occur when oils are produced in a skin gland faster than they can be released from the gland.

Benign bony tumors of the ear canal (exostoses and osteomas) may be caused by excess growth of bone. Repeated exposure to cold water may increase the risk of benign bony tumors of the ear canal.

Symptoms

The symptoms of cysts include:

  • Pain (if cysts are in the outside ear canal or get infected)
  • Small soft skin lumps on, behind, or in front of the ear

The symptoms of benign tumors include:

Note: There may be no symptoms.

Signs and tests

Benign cysts and tumors are usually discovered during a routine ear examination, which can include hearing tests (audiometry ) and middle ear testing (tympanometry ). When looking into the ear, the doctor may see cysts or benign tumors in the ear canal.

Sometimes a CT scan is needed.

This disease may also affect the results of the following tests:

Treatment

If the cyst or tumor is not painful and does not interfere with hearing, treatment is not necessary.

If a cyst becomes painful, it may be infected. Treatment may include antibiotics or removal of the cyst.

Benign bony tumors may progressively increase in size. If a benign tumor is painful, interferes with hearing, or leads to frequent ear infections, surgery to remove the tumor may be necessary.

Expectations (prognosis)

Benign ear cysts and tumors are usually slow-growing and may disappear on their own.

Complications

  • Hearing loss if the tumor is large
  • Infection of the cysts
  • Infection of the ear canal
  • Wax trapped in the ear canal

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have:

  • Symptoms of a benign ear cyst or tumor
  • Discomfort, pain, or hearing loss

References

O’Handley JG, Tobin EJ, Shah AR. Otorhinolaryngology. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 19.

Nicolai P, Castelnuovo P. Benign tumors of the sinonasal tract. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 49.

Warren FM III, Shelton C, Wiggins RH III. Neuroradiology of the temporal bone and skull base. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 135.

Updated: 8/30/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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