International Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, 2013, 2, 215-220
Published Online November 2013 (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ijohns)
Open Access IJOHNS
Salivary G land Choristoma of the Middle Ear and Review
of the Literature
Serafín Sánchez Gómez, Juan Manuel Maza Solano, José Ramón Armas Padrón,
Francisco Refolio Sánchez, Tomás Francisco Herrero Salado
Virgen Macarena University Hospital, Seville, Spain
Received April 19, 2013; revised May 15, 2013; accepted June 7, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Serafín Sánchez Gómez et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Conductive hearing loss due to middle ear masses is uncommon and usually diagnosed after biopsy. We present a case
of a permanent facial palsy occurred following an uneventful biopsy during an exploratory tympanotomy in a salivary
gland choristoma of the middle ear. Most salivary gland choristomas have been found in the head and neck. Its location
in the ear is extremely rare, and thus we present the 38th case in English and non-English literature from the first publi-
cation by Taylor in 1961. Complete surgical removal of salivary gland choristomas of the middle ear is indicated when
may not result in permanent damage to the facial nerve. Only biopsy and observation are recommended when the mass
is intimately associated with the facial nerve or there are unsafe facial nerve abnormalities. Although the facial nerve is
involved in 40% of cases, transient or even permanent facial palsies are exceptional. The reactivation of latent herpes
virus in the facial canal may be involved in facial palsy’ etiology following minimal and uneventful middle ear surgery
like a biopsy rather than nerve injury related to facial canal malformations.
Keywords: Salivary Gland; Choristoma; Middle Ear; Facial Palsy; Herpesvirus Reactivation
Choristomas are not tumors but normal mature tissue
masses of a single histological type that are at an abnor-
mal anatomical location .
We present a rare condition, the 38th case of salivary
gland choristomas of the middle ear in literature from the
first publication in 1961 [2-22]. Only one case was bilat-
eral, and described postmortem  (see Table 1). Our
case was diagnosed by biopsy following an exploratory
tympanotomy due to unilateral conductive hearing loss
and showed the third reported permanent facial palsy.
This article may contribute to the limited clinical knowl-
edge of this condition and assist clinicians in its diagno-
sis and management.
2. Case Report
A 32-years-old Caucasian woman was referred to the
ENT Department complaining of hearing loss increased
after a delivery and coincident with left ear’s acute otitis
media (AOM) 3 months before. History of a self-limited
ipsilateral facial paresis diagnosed as Bell’s palsy 13
months before and a treatment with rifampicin, myam-
butol and isoniazid for 6 months treating lymph node
tuberculosis 1.5 years before. Otomicroscopy was normal.
Pure tone audiometry demonstrated a left ear conductive
hearing loss with 40 dB pantonal air thresholds and nor-
mal bone thresholds in low frequencies shifting to 30 dB
for frequencies above 2000 Hz. Tympanogram showed a
reduction of compliance, pressures centered at 0 daPa
and on-off stapedial reflexes, designating a decreased
mobility of the ossicular chain. Preoperative assessment,
examination and tests were normal. Exploratory tym-
panotomy of the left ear was performed under local an-
esthesia and sedation. Surgical findings included normal
tympanic membrane and stringy mucus in the tympanic
cavity, occupied by a large polyp-like lesion involving
the mesotympanum and the incudo-stapedial joint. Os-
sicular chain was complete and mobile. We only per-
formed a biopsy of the polypoid mass for diagnostic
purposes and a transtympanic drainage was placed. The
sample collected was reported as a salivary gland choris-
toma (Figures 1-3). Inmunohistochemical staining for
S-100 protein disclosed the presence of nerve fibers.
An immediate Computed Tomography (CT) scan was
performed, showing only a mld hypertrophic middle ear i
S. SÁNCHEZ GÓMEZ ET AL.
Table 1. Salivary gland choristomas of the middle ear reported in the literature (n = number of patients).
Caucasian people 97.4% (n = 37)
Race N/A 2.6% (n = 1)
Gender Women 1.6:1 (female n = 23; male n = 14; N/A n = 1)
Left ear 1.6:1 (left n = 23; right n = 14)
Side Bilateral n = 1 (postmortem)
Unilateral hearing loss > 1 year 87.2% (n = 33)
Neonatal screening 5.3% (n = 2)
School screening 7.9% (n = 3)
Tinnitus 10.5% (n = 4)
Conductive type 55.3%, moderate in 74%, before age 25 (n = 21)
Sensorineural type 2.6% (n = 1)
Mixed 21%, older than 15 years (n = 8)
Type of hearing loss
N/A 15.8% (n = 6)
Otoscopic visualization of a mass in the
tympanic cavity 37% (n = 14)
Seromucous otitis and repetitive AOM 24% (n = 9), undergoing myringotomy and ventilation tube
placement in half of this cases (n = 5)
Causes of misdiagnosis
Suspicious of fixation of the ossicular chain 15.8% (n = 6): normal otoscopy, conductive hearing loss
Affecting portions of the incus and the stapes 60.5% (n = 23), 50% simultaneous (n = 19)
Malleus 10.5% (n = 4)
Oval and round windows 15.8% (n = 6)
Dehiscent 31.6% (n = 12)
Altered position 7.9% (n = 3)
Mass very attached to bony canal or to dehiscent facial nerve 36.8% (n = 14)
Facial nerve abnormalities
Mass preventing the visualization of the facial nerve 7.7% (n = 3)
Posterior region of the tympanic cavity, involving the incudo-stapedial joint 63.2% (n = 24)
The mass was separated from the medial wall of the tympanic cavity and adjacent to the tympanic
membrane 5.3% (n = 2)
Salivary gland choristomas location
Pedicles have been observed 10.5% (n = 4)
Transcanal tympanotomy 76.3% (n = 29)
Retroaural tympanotomy 5.3% (n = 2)
Mastoidectomy 15.8% (n = 6)
Ossicular chain reconstruction surgery 18.4% (n = 7)
Complete removal 57.9% (n = 22)
Incomplete removal 7.7% (n = 3)
Only biopsy 28.9% (n = 11)
N/A 7.9% (n = 3)
mucosa without destruction of bone structures (Figure
Left facial paresis appeared one day following surgery,
grade II according to the House-Brackman scale. Elec-
troneuronography test (ENog) was performed at day 5th
showing 36.9% on the affected side compared to the
healthy side, consistent with neuropraxia, so we decided
corticosteroid therapy and rehabilitation . IgG anti-
bodies against HSV-1 were not high. Grade II facial pa-
resis persisted despite medical treatment, home exercises
and electrotherapy, withdrawn a few days later due to
earache and hypogeusia. Six months following surgery
the patient was admitted for immediate delivery after 31
weeks of gestation and a cesarean section was carried out.
The pregnancy was unknown at the time of surgery. Fif-
teen months following surgery the patient was admitted
to the Emergency Room with high fever and low level of
consciousness with pustular skin blistering “in starry
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S. SÁNCHEZ GÓMEZ ET AL. 217
Figure 1. Overview showing polypoid appearance of the
lesion. (HE, ×20).
Figure 2. The lesion is covered by a pseudostratified ciliated
epithelium with goblet cells and consisting of mucous acini,
serous and mixed. (HE, ×100).
Figure 3. Detail of mucous acini, serous and mixed. (HE,
sky” around the upper body consistent with chickenpox.
Lab tests of immune status were normal: complete blood
cell count, C-reactive protein (CRP), immunoglobulins
Figure 4. Left-sided temporal bone scan reveals soft tissue
density in the middle ear emerging over the promontory.
There are no osseous erosions.
(Ig) G, M, and A, antinuclear antibody, and total protein.
Blood and CSF culture and serum PCR for herpes-sim-
plex virus were negative. With the diagnosis of chicken-
pox encephalitis treatment with acyclovir was prescribed
. CT scans performed 3 and 4 years after surgery
didn’t show any increase in the middle ear hypertrophic
mucosa or destruction of structures. A Grade I-II facial
palsy was the permanent sequela.
Choristomas are also known as heterotopic tissue, ecto-
pia, congenital heterotopic remnants or aberrant debris.
Most salivary gland choristomas have been found in head
and neck. The most common locations are the parapa-
rotid area, the upper neck, mandible, external ear canal,
vulva, mediastinum, cerebellopontine angle, thyroid gland,
pituitary gland, rectum, thyroglossal duct, parathyroid
capsule, tongue, tonsil, and tonsillar fossa. Most of cho-
ristomas are non-neoplastic lesions that do not require
excision, unless recent growth is observed in adults or
disproportionate growth occurs in childhood, but biopsy
is needed for diagnosis . We updated the review con-
ducted by Rinaldo  and recent reports [28-37] of mid-
dle ear location.
Salivary gland choristomas are the most common type
of heterotopic tissue found in the middle ear. Pathogene-
sis of salivary gland choristomas of the middle ear re-
mains unknown. Willis  has suggested 3 possibilities:
1) abnormal persistence and development of vestigial
structures; 2) dislocation of a portion of a definitive organ
rudiment during mass movement; and 3) heteroplasia,
which is abnormal differentiation of local tissues. Abadir
 suggested that the persistence of remnants of salivary
glands in the middle ear must occur before the fourth
month of embrionary development. We agree with Nassar
 that the criteria described by Buckmiller  for the
definition of a syndrome are present in less than a third
part of the reported cases and this condition would not
Open Access IJOHNS
S. SÁNCHEZ GÓMEZ ET AL.
constitute a syndrome. Incidental lesions are not consis-
tent enough to describe a syndrome: preauricular fistulae/
cysts, branchial cysts, absence of malleus/stapes muscles,
oval and round windows and ossicular anomalies, periau-
ricular alopecia, hemifacial atrophy, situs inversus. Most
injuries associated to middle ear salivary gland choris-
tomas are probably due to the sole presence and action of
the choristomatous mass and not resulting from abnormal
development of the first and second branchial arches.
Most ossicular defects described resemble lytic lesions
found in other chronic middle ear conditions.
Low otoscopic visualization of a mass in the tympanic
cavity (37%) and high prevalence of conductive hearing
loss in patients’ first decades of life misdiagnoses the
condition. Antecedents of female, hearing loss presenta-
tion following a delivery and a Type As Tympanogram
directed us to the preoperative diagnosis of ossicular
CT images started to be used in cases published after
1992 and only in 12 patients, when hearing loss was
combined with a remarkable image of otoscopic tym-
panic mass and cases of normal otoscopy and striking
high audiometric thresholds. The appearance of the le-
sions has been described in several colors (yellowish,
reddish, brownish or pinkish) and consistency (soft and
elastic or rubbery), with smooth or lobulated surfaces.
Sizes vary from 2 mm up to occupy almost the whole
tympanic cavity. At any case its length has exceeded the
limits of the tympanic cavity, the entrance of the tympanic
orifice of the Eustachian tube, the facial recess and the
A relatively straightforward differential diagnosis can
be formulated with epidermal lesions like granuloma (no-
dular inflammatory lesion) or cholesteatoma (accumula-
tion of keratin debris within a sac of squamous epithelium
in absence of otorrhea), paragangliomas or vascular le-
sions (vascularized appearance, pulsatile). But the look,
feel, location and CT images make the differential diag-
nosis more challenging with benign or malignant tumors
(adenoma, schwannoma, endolymphatic sac tumor, rhab-
domyosarcoma, metastatic disease, histiocytosis X). Only
histopathological investigations can establish the definite
diagnosis of salivary gland choristoma, differentiating it
from hamartoma (various mature tissue normally found in
the site of lesion), dermoid cysts (ectodermal tissue only
with epidermal adnexae), epidermoid cysts (ectodermal
tissue with no epidermal adnexae) and teratomas (benign/
malign mature/immature tissues of several embryological
One objective criterion to indicate removal of the lesion
when diagnosed is the treatment of conductive hearing
loss and avoids the probable course of the hypoacusia to
an increase in bone thresholds. Complete surgical re-
moval is indicated when may not result in permanent
damage to the facial nerve. Only biopsy and observation
are recommended when the mass is intimately associated
with the facial nerve or there are unsafe facial nerve ab-
normalities. Facial nerve electrical monitoring and the use
of KTP laser have allowed choristomas removal without
neurological sequelae. Involvement of facial nerve or
round/oval windows prevents a proper reconstruction of
the frequently affected ossicular hearing mechanism
(71%). Incomplete removal of salivary gland choristoma
of the middle ear have not ever evolved to malignization,
while monitoring of all reported cases has not been long
enough to predict a possible malignancy. Rinaldo 
points to a prominent benign behavior of ear’s salivary
gland choristomas in her literature review, including 4
malignant salivary gland tumors originating from the
middle ear and speculatively evolving from choristomas.
Despite the frequent involvement of the facial nerve
(40%), only two transient facial palsies and three perma-
nent ones (10.5% of patients) have been described fol-
lowing surgery. Surgical damage may appear as the im-
mediate cause of the facial paresis/palsy, but herpesvirus
implication could be considered even with lower HSV-1
titers: our patient had suffered a previous transient epi-
sode of facial palsy and subsequently presented a rare
herpetic encephalitis (1.7 cases of encephalitis per 100,000
cases of chickenpox). Clinical practice guidelines rec-
ommend treatment with acyclovir even in undiagnosed
herpetic encephalitis but suspected. Unknown host im-
mune factors and the unsuspected pregnancy may be re-
sponsible to suffer facial palsy even before 2.5 days de-
scribed in Bonkowsky series . This supports the hy-
pothesis of facial palsy by reactivation of latent herpes
viral particles stationed in the geniculate ganglion when
surgery is limited to a non-damaging simple biopsy .
Complete surgical removal or rare salivary gland choris-
tomas of the middle ear is indicated when may not result
in permanent damage to the facial nerve. Only biopsy and
observation are recommended when the mass is intima-
tely associated with the facial nerve or there are unsafe
facial nerve abnormalities. Although facial nerve is in-
volved in 40% of middle ear’s choristomas, transient or
even permanent facial palsies are exceptional. The reacti-
vation of latent herpes virus in the facial canal may be
involved in facial palsy’s etiology following minima land
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