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An ear polyp, also known as an aural polyp, is an abnormal growth of skin and soft tissue extending from the ear canal. Polyps are fleshy, swollen lumps, sometimes containing bloody pus. Typically, an ear polyp arises from either the ear canal or the tympanic membrane, better known as the eardrum. Seldom are such polyps deemed to be cancerous growths, but rather are benign cysts or the result of aggressive bone infections. Although normally not cancerous, an ear polyp can be considered malignant when referencing polyps arising from a bone infection, due to their aggressive speed of growth and hazardous nature.
In regard to cause, an ear polyp results from several possible scenarios. Acute otitis externa, or severe swimmer's ear can result in the formation of a polyp. When water remains in the ear canal, such as with regular swimming, the moist environment serves as a breeding ground for both bacterial and fungal infections. If left untreated, such an infection can result in the formation of an ear polyp between the eardrum and the outer ear.
Malignant otitis externs are aggressive abnormal growths in the ear canal that begin with a bone infection inside the ear. Diagnosing these polyps as malignant does not mean they are cancerous growths, but rather references the aggressive, cancer-like behavior of such polyps. As the infection develops and grows in intensity, irritation of the sensitive tissues in the bottom of the ear canal creates a polyp. The risk of complications from malignant otitis externs are high. If left untreated, a malignant ear polyp can lead to infection of the skull bones, brain abscesses, permanent loss of hearing, and paralysis of facial muscles.
Skin cysts are another cause of ear polyps. Like polyps caused by swimmer's ear or bone infections, skin cysts in the ear canal are typically the result of prolonged irritation. Under chronically irritated conditions, the risk of infection and the development of cysts — the body's defense against chronic irritation or inflammation — greatly increases. Surgically implanted tubes used to relieve chronic ear infections can sometimes lead to similar skin cysts or ear polyps. Tiny bones in the mastoid or middle ear are susceptible to irreparable damage from the development of such ear polyps.
Symptoms associated with ear polyps include extreme sensitivity to touch, excessive drainage from the ear, bloody drainage, pain, and itching within the ear canal. Hearing loss or a reduction in hearing capabilities are common with all ear polyps. In some cases, even a soft touch to an ear polyp can cause pain and bloody drainage. Firm ear polyps that do not bleed easily are an indication of tumorous growth. Soft, inflamed polyps that bleed easily are usually indicative of chronic or severe infection.
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