What Is Mastoiditis?
One of the most important structures in your inner ear is
the mastoid bone.
Although it’s called a bone, the mastoid doesn’t have the typical structure
associated with other bones in the human body. The mastoid bone is made of air
sacs and resembles a sponge, rather than being solid and rigid like most bones.
The mastoid must receive air from other parts of the ear,
including the Eustachian tube, to function properly. Your Eustachian tube connects your
middle ear to the back of your throat. If an infection develops in your middle
ear and blocks your Eustachian tube, it may subsequently lead to an infection
in the mastoid bone. This serious infection is known as mastoid bone infection
of the skull, or mastoiditis.
What Causes Mastoiditis?
The most common cause of mastoiditis is a middle ear
infection that has been left untreated. It can spread to the inner ear,
invading the sacs of the mastoid bone, without treatment. This can cause the
mastoid bone to begin to disintegrate.
Although the condition is most common in children, it can
also occur in adults.
What Are the Symptoms of
The symptoms of mastoiditis are similar to those of an ear
infection. They include:
- drainage from the affected ear
- ear pain
- hearing loss in the affected ear
- redness, swelling, and tenderness behind the
In some cases, mastoiditis may result in the development of
a brain abscess or other complications involving the skull. The symptoms of
these conditions include severe headaches and swelling behind the eyes. This
swelling is known as papilledema.
How Is Mastoiditis
If you have symptoms of an ear infection, your doctor will
examine your ears and head to determine if the infection has spread to your
The mastoid bone is located in the inner ear and may not be
visible due to the infection. Your doctor may perform other tests to confirm
the diagnosis. These include:
- a white blood cell count to confirm the presence
of an infection
- a computerized tomography (CT) scan of your ear
- an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of your ear and
- an X-ray of your skull
If the tests confirm a diagnosis of mastoiditis, your doctor
may also perform a lumbar puncture (spinal
tap). This test will allow your doctor to determine if the infection is present
in your spinal column.
How Is Mastoiditis Treated?
Mastoiditis is a potentially life-threatening condition.
Initial treatment for a severe infection may include hospitalization. You will
receive antibiotic medication through a vein in your arm (intravenously) while
at the hospital. You will need to take oral antibiotics at home for several
days after leaving the hospital.
If the infection doesn’t clear up after treatment with
antibiotics, surgery may necessary. Surgery may involve removing part of your
mastoid bone to drain the infection. Doctors may also need to drain your middle
ear of infected fluid to successfully treat the infection.
Treatment of mastoiditis can be difficult because the
mastoid bone is located deep inside your ear. Serious health problems may
result if treatment isn’t effective or if the infection isn’t treated before damaging
the mastoid. These health problems include:
- vertigo (dizziness)
- facial paralysis
- hearing loss
- meningitis (a bacterial infection of the
membranes covering your brain and spinal cord)
- epidural abscess (a collection of pus on the
outside of your brain and spinal cord)
- sepsis (spreading of the infection throughout
How Can Mastoiditis Be
You can prevent mastoiditis by effectively treating all ear
infections. Seek prompt medical attention and follow your doctor’s advice if
you develop an ear infection. This may include taking oral antibiotics for seven
to 10 days.
Outlook for Patients with
Early intervention is necessary to prevent permanent damage
if mastoiditis develops. Even if treatment is successful, the infection may
return. Doctors will need to monitor patients who develop mastoiditis to ensure
that the infection doesn’t return or spread.