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What is mastoiditis?

Mastoiditis is an inflammation or infection of the mastoid bone. This bone is part of the skull and is located behind the ear.  The mastoid bone is made of cells that drain the middle ear. Mastoiditis may be mild. It can also be very serious.

What causes mastoiditis?

Mastoiditis usually occurs in a child with a recent middle ear infection (otitis media). The infection in the middle ear spreads into the mastoid bone.

What are the symptoms of mastoiditis?

The following are the most common symptoms for mastoiditis:

  • Pain, redness or swelling behind the ear

  • Ear pain

  • Protruding ear lobe due to swelling of mastoid bone

  • Fever

  • Irritability

  • Headache

  • Hearing loss

The symptoms of mastoiditis may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is mastoiditis diagnosed?

The provider will ask questions about your child's medical history and current symptoms. He or she will examine your child paying close attention to the upper respiratory system including the ears, nose, and throat. An otoscope is used to examine the middle ear. X-ray and CAT scans of the mastoid area may be done. Fluid from the middle ear may be sent to the lab to be checked.

Treatment for mastoiditis

Treatment of mastoiditis usually includes antibiotic medication and draining the middle ear. Tympanostomy or ear tubes may also be placed. Hospitalization may be required. And in some children, other surgery may be necessary.

What are the complications of mastoiditis?

Complications include:

  • Hearing loss

  • Serious infection in nearby tissue

  • Facial nerve damage

  • Inner ear problems

  • Meningitis or inflammation or infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord

Mastoiditis is usually treated by an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT or otolaryngologist). It is very important for your child to go to all follow up appointments to check for hearing problems and other complications.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 9/4/2014
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