There are a vast array of growths and tumors that can occur both inside and outside of the ear. The good news is that most are non-cancerous and generally fall into a class known as sebaceous cysts. This article will provide an overview of growth in ear canal issues, along with their typical treatment and what can be done at home to lessen the severity of their side effects. Below is a list of the sections covered with links to allow you to navigate to a section which interests you most.
1. Types of Growth in Ear Canal
Some of the more commonly encountered types of inner ear tumor and external growths include the following:
- Benign ear cysts or tumors
- Surfer’s ear
- Pleomorphic adenoma
- Cholesterol granuloma
- Glomus tumors
- Osteoma of the temporal bone
- Otitis externa or Swimmer’s ear
- Cutaneous lesions of the external ear
Surfers often suffer from a characteristic ear canal growth resulting from exposure to cold water and wind. This was briefly mentioned before, and arises from abnormal, excessive bony growth within the canal (exostosis – a Greek word that means ‘new bone’). The ear canal becomes blocked, thus causing water and wax to be trapped inside, leading to infection. Despite the name, this condition can also occur in all those exposed to wet and windy conditions, such as kayakers, divers and windsurfers.
Surfer’s ear can be prevented by using ear plugs while surfing, so the duct is not flushed with water and wind. Surgery facilitates widening of the ear canal to drain water, and involves drilling or chiselling to remove the new growth in the ear canal.
Pleomorphic adenoma are generally non-cancerous tumors that most often affect the saliva glands. In rare cases, however, they can affect the parotid tail and lead to an external ear canal tumor. They are normally benign, but with time the chance of them transforming into cancerous growths increases. They are usually identified as a rubbery mass that obstructs more than one-third of the external auditory canal with no associated harm to the bone.
Cholesterol granuloma or cholesterol cysts are also rare, benign growths that consist of brownish-yellow fragments with crystals of cholesterol. They are characterized by slow growth and occur mostly in the middle ear and in the region of the mastoid bone (on the skull, behind the ear, and more specifically, in the petrous apex). Any part of the body that contains cholesterol deposits can develop lesions but the petrous apex is the most common area affected.
Arising from the glomus bodies, which are tiny structures in the middle ear responsible for regulating oxygen pressure, glomus tumors are the most common benign tumors of the middle ear. Though benign (even a single glomus body can exhibit abnormal growth and form a tumor) they can occur at many sites including the temporal bone and the neck or the jugular vein. Most commonly affected however is in the middle ear. When the eardrum is examined, they appear red due to their vascular nature.
Glomus tumors can often grow very large and block the entire middle ear. They may also penetrate into the region around the facial vein or get attached to the jugular vein and carotid artery. Radical surgery may be required if this occurs. Hearing impairment may result from huge growths but when small, tumor in ear symptoms may be almost unnoticeable.
These growths are best removed using laser therapy which essentially vaporizes the tumor. A suction device is used at the same time to remove the smoke and burnt remains.
Larger tumors may also be treated with this method without damaging the bones of hearing.
Osteoma of the Temporal Bone
Osteoma of the temporal bone are rare and non-cancerous growths affecting the actual bone of the skull behind the ear. The few cases that have occurred have been reported as painful and there is a chance of hearing loss as a result of these tumors.
Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear
This condition occurs as a result of inflammation of the external auditory canal (EAC). Symptoms range from fever and tinnitus to loss of hearing and contraction of the ear canal. Itching, edema and foul-smelling discharge may also occur. Treatment includes topical applications for edema and infection, pain management and removal of fragments from the EAC.
Cutaneous Lesions of the External Ear
There are several types of cutaneous lesions of the external ear, including seborrhoic keratosis, atheroma, granuloma fissuratum, actinic keratosis and cutaneous horns.
Other Common Ear Growths and Tumors
Other somewhat common ear growths that may be encountered, not falling into the above groups are: xanthogranuloma, chondroid syringoma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and fibro-epithelial polyp of the EAC. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma of the EAC is the only malignant tumor of these.
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2. Forms of Tumor Behind Ear
Particularly destructive tumors that can form behind the ear, in addition to those covered above, are those that develop on the nerve that links the ear and the brain. This nerve, called the vestibular cochlear nerve, is located behind the ear, directly beneath the brain. Medically known as acoustic neuroma, they can also cause damage to many other nerves as they grow, leading to numbness of the face. Actor Mark Ruffalo actually suffered from this, and his experience is documented in the video below.
Symptoms of this tumor behind ear can vary from person to person and further depends on their size and location. However, a few common symptoms include vertigo, tinnitus, hearing impairment, dizziness, headache and pain in the face or the affected ear.
Acoustic neuroma is often treated with radiation therapy called stereotactic radiosurgery. This treatment is given to patients to stop the growth of the tumors in cases where they are either difficult to remove surgically, or to elderly and sick patients.
3. Home Remedies for Ear Growths
There are a few home remedies to address benign ear growths and tumors.
- To treat a lymph node in the neck that appears as a swelling behind the ear, you can try gargling with salt or turmeric water.
- Sebaceous cysts can be treated with tea tree oil which helps dry up the fluid in the cyst and reduce the swelling. A warm compress may also help.
In most cases, however, professional help should be sought for any unusual growths you notice on your body, especially near your ears.
Though most are benign, untreated growths may lead to permanent hearing impairment and recurring ear canal infections. Paralysis of the facial nerve and loss of inner ear balance may also result if neglected. Very large tumors can even, in certain circumstances, cause fluid accumulation (hydrocephalus) in the brain, which can unfortunately prove fatal.
I hope this provided you with at least some guidance on the massive field of ear growths and tumors. If so, please share with as many people as possible.