Mastoiditis Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

About the Rare but Serious Infection

doctor examining toddler's ear for mastoiditis
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Mastoiditis is a rare infection of the mastoid bone of the skull, which is located behind the ear. It is usually the result of untreated ear infections. When ear infections are left untreated for too long, the infection can spread to the mastoid bone. The cells inside this bone are filled with air and have a honeycomb-like structure, and the infection causes it to deteriorate.

Today the incidence of mastoiditis is very low, and life-threatening complications are even rarer.

It is most prevalent in children. Before the invention of antibiotics, mastoiditis was actually one of the leading causes of death amongst children.

Symptoms of mastoiditis include:

  • Ear pain
  • Fluid discharge from the ear
  • Redness of the ear or behind the ear
  • Swelling behind the ear that may cause the ear to stick out
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Hearing loss
  • In the disease's late stages, abscesses in the neck called Bezold's abscesses

How can you tell when it's more than an ear infection? It is always best to talk to your doctor. Call your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms, if your symptoms do not respond to treatment or if you have an ear infection that has not responded to treatment or is followed by new symptoms.

Mastoiditis Diagnosis & Treatment

A doctor should be able to identify mastoiditis based on symptoms and health history. Confirmation of this illness is obtained through several tests, including CT scans of the ear and head, and x-rays of the skull.

Additionally, a culture of fluid drainage from the ear may also be taken to identify bacteria.

Treatment of mastoiditis depends on how far the infection has spread. In its early stages, the disease can easily be treated with a series of antibiotic injections and oral medication. If antibiotics alone are unsuccessful in treating mastoiditis, some of the bone may need to be removed, a procedure called a mastoidectomy.

Sometimes mastoiditis is difficult to treat because the medication cannot reach the bone, which requires long-term treatment. In some cases, ear tubes are implanted to prevent future ear infections and subsequent mastoiditis. A surgical procedure known as a myringotomy is also used to drain the middle ear to treat the ear infection.

Mastoiditis can also lead to labyrinthitis, which can cause the infection of cerebral spinal fluid, meningitis, and even death. Since the invention of antibiotics, however, labyrinthitis is very rare. Mastoiditis is much less dangerous today than it once was.

Potential Complications of Mastoiditis

As previously mentioned, mastoiditis is quite uncommon and a lot less dangerous than it used to be. Still, there are several complications that can occur with the infection that are serious and worth taking note of:

  • Deterioration of the mastoid bone
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Facial paralysis
  • Hearing loss
  • Epidural abscess
  • Meningitis

Fortunately, mastoiditis can be cured, but it can be hard to treat and it can come back.

You can prevent the infection from occurring by treating ear infections promptly and properly.


Baylor College of Medicine. Acute Mastoiditis. Accessed: October 30, 2009 from

Medline Plus. Mastoiditis. Accessed: October 30, 2009 from

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