Benign ear cyst or tumor

Alternative names
Osteomas; Exostoses; Tumor - ear; Cysts - ear; Ear cysts; Ear tumors

Benign ear cysts are noncancerous lumps or growths within the canal of the ear, pinna, or other parts of the ear.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Sebaceous cysts are the most common 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, within the ear canal, or 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 excreted out of the gland. If the cysts within the ear canal get infected, they are extremely painful.

Benign bony tumors of the ear canal (exostoses and osteomas) may be caused by an overgrowth of bone. Repeated exposure to cold water may increase the risk of benign tumors of the ear canal. Tumors may grow large enough to block the ear canal, trap wax in the canal, and interfere with hearing.

The symptoms of cysts include:

  • small soft skin lumps on, behind, or in front of the ear, usually not painful or tender (unless infected)  
  • cysts within the external ear canal can be extremely painful

The symptoms of benign tumors include:

  • ear discomfort  
  • gradual hearing loss in one ear (because the tumor blocks the external ear canal)

Note: There may be no symptoms.

Signs and tests
Benign cysts and tumors are usually discovered during a routine ear examination. When looking into the ear, the doctor may see cysts or benign tumors that often appear as skin-covered mounds within the ear canal.

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

  • electronystagmography  
  • caloric stimulation

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 or interferes with hearing, surgical removal of the tumor may be necessary.

Expectations (prognosis)

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


  • the cysts could become infected  
  • wax in the ear could become impacted  
  • hearing loss could occur if the tumor is large

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with a health care provider if you have symptoms of a benign ear cyst or tumor and there is discomfort, pain, or hearing loss.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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