Aural polyps are noncancerous, fleshy growths in the outer ear canal or on your eardrum.
Polyps usually form from constant irritation of the ear canal or eardrum. External ear infections, called chronic otitis externa, are the most common cause of this irritation.
Infection is the most common cause of aural polyps. Benign ear growths such as cholesteatoma, also known as ear cysts, can also show up as polyps. This problem most often forms from an ear canal that has something wrong with it. Or it may be a reaction to a tube placed in the eardrum.
Necrotizing externa otitis is a bone infection within the ear canal. This can also cause polyps. If the infection spreads, it can cause brain abscess, facial paralysis, deafness, meningitis, and bone infection of the base of the skull.
The main signs and symptoms of aural polyps are linked to the underlying infection. Often there is pain and itching in the ear canal. There may also be drainage from the infection. Because your ear canal has a growth in it, there may be some hearing impairment as well.
An aural polyp is found by ear examination. There is usually pus if the primary cause is infection.
Prompt treatment of external ear infections can help to prevent aural polyps.
Polyps in the ear canal may grow, bleed, and affect hearing. Cholesteatoma, or ear cysts, can spread and damage the inner and middle ears. Noncancerous growths may increase the person's risk for chronic otitis externa and hearing impairment. Malignant otitis externa will continue to spread unless treated.
There are no risks to others, as aural polyps are not contagious.
Aural polyps are generally treated with topical steroid creams and antibiotic eardrops. For long-term or repeat infections, steroid creams and white table vinegar may be used. Your doctor may prescribe antifungal drops and creams for a fungal infection. Ear tubes may need to be removed if drops are not effective in getting rid of the polyps.
Side effects are specific to the medicines being used but may include:
Medicine should be stopped if symptoms occur.
Surgery carries a risk of infection, bleeding, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.
The infection and the polyp generally resolve with therapy and have no long-term effects. If chronic otitis externa develops, maintenance therapy may be necessary. This could include steroid drops, vinegar washes, or antifungal products. If a tube had to be removed because of a polyp and ear infection recurs, a new tube made of a different substance may be needed.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Mark Loury, MD
Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
Reviewer:William M. Boggs, MD