European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology

, Volume 276, Issue 2, pp 367–373 | Cite as

A new theory interprets the development of a retraction pocket as a natural self-healing process

  • Karl-Bernd HüttenbrinkEmail author



The thesis that cholesteatoma evolves from a retraction pocket is widely accepted today. Yet, its prime etiology, the question of what triggers the invagination of healthy skin, still remains unclear despite centuries of investigations into the origin of cholesteatoma. A new idea interprets the horizontal migration of skin into the middle ear cavities as a self-healing process, curing an underlying inflammation in the tympanic cavity, through the overgrowth and contact with immunologically active tissue.


A retrospective analysis of the interrelation of retraction pockets and underlying granulation tissue was conducted in 209 second-look cholesteatoma surgeries over the last decade.


A stable tympanic membrane over aerated, healthy middle ear mucosa was found in 71.3% of cases. In 11%, small retractions with air in other parts of the middle ear cleft (epitympanic, sinus or anterior mesotympanum) were described. In 6.2%, granulations under a retraction were found. Only 3.8% of the reports revealed air behind a retraction or did not provide enough information on the mucosa situation behind the drum membrane.


A new hypothesis interprets the origin of a retraction pocket—the precursor of a cholesteatoma—as a natural attempt by the body to cure an underlying inflammation in a cavity. Analogous phenomena exist, e.g. the migration of the omentum towards a local inflammation in the abdomen. This idea, which is supported by the findings in our 209 second-look surgeries, is the first explanation of the origin of retraction pockets that is compatible with the various characteristics of original or recurrent cholesteatoma. A prophylaxis against a recurrent cholesteatoma might be attained by securing free drainage of the mucosa into the tubal orifice with the use of thin silicone foils in an attempt to prevent any granulation in the middle ear cleft, similar to the principles of modern rhinosinusoidal surgery with its emphasis on unblocked mucosa clearance. This allows gas production in the healed middle ear mucosa to recover, reducing the risk of a recurrent retraction.


Retraction pocket Cholesteatoma Pathogenesis Self-healing 



No support or funding was received for this work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ORLUniversity Clinic CologneCologneGermany

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