Benign ear cysts are lumps or growths in the ear. They are not cancerous.
Sebaceous cysts are the most common type of cysts seen in the ear. These sack-like lumps are made up of dead skin cells and oils produced by oil glands in the skin.
Places they are likely to be found include:
- Behind the ear
- In the ear canal
- In the earlobe
- On the scalp
The exact cause of the problem is unknown. Cysts may occur when oils are produced in a skin gland faster than they can be released from the gland. They can also occur if the oil gland opening has become blocked and a cyst forms under the skin.
Benign bony tumors of the ear canal (exostoses and osteomas) are caused by excess growth of bone. Repeated exposure to cold water may increase the risk for benign bony tumors of the ear canal.
The symptoms of cysts include:
- Pain (if cysts are in the outside ear canal or if they get infected)
- Small soft skin lumps on, behind, or in front of the ear
The symptoms of benign tumors include:
- Ear discomfort
- Gradual hearing loss in one ear
- Repeated outer ear infections
Note: There may be no symptoms.
Exams and Tests
Benign cysts and tumors are most often found during a routine ear exam. This type of exam may include hearing tests (audiometry) and middle ear testing (tympanometry). When looking into the ear, the health care provider 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 is not needed if the cyst does not cause pain or affect hearing.
If a cyst becomes painful, it may be infected. Treatment may include antibiotics or removal of the cyst.
Benign bony tumors may increase in size over time. Surgery may be needed if a benign tumor is painful, interferes with hearing, or leads to frequent ear infections.
Benign ear cysts and tumors are slow-growing. They may sometimes shrink or may disappear on their own.
Complications may include:
- Hearing loss, if the tumor is large
- Infection of the cyst
- Infection of the ear canal
- Wax trapped in the ear canal
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you have:
- Symptoms of a benign ear cyst or tumor
- Discomfort, pain, or hearing loss
Osteomas; Exostoses; Tumor - ear; Cysts - ear; Ear cysts; Ear tumors; Bony tumor of the ear canal; Furuncles
Gold L, Williams TP. Odontogenic tumors: surgical pathology and management. In: Fonseca RJ, ed. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 18.
Hargreaves M. Osteomas and exostoses of the external auditory canal. In: Myers EN, Snyderman CH, eds. Operative Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 127.
Nicolai P, Mattavelli D, Castelnuovo P. Benign tumors of the sinonasal tract. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 50.
Review Date 5/30/2022
Updated by: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.