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What is Mastoiditis?

Inflammation of the Mastoid Bone


Updated May 29, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What is Mastoiditis?
Photo © A.D.A.M.

Mastoiditis is an uncommon illness that usually results from untreated ear infections. Sometimes when ear infections are left untreated for too long, the infection spreads to the mastoid bone, which lies just behind the ear. The cells inside of this bone are filled with air, giving it a structure similar to a honeycomb, and the infection can cause it to deteriorate.

Currently, the incidence of mastoiditis is very low, and life-threatening complications are even more rare.

Symptoms of Mastoiditis

  • Ear pain
  • Fluid discharge from the ear
  • Redness behind the ear
  • Swelling behind the ear, which may cause the ear to stick out abnormally
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • In the disease's late stages: Abscesses in the neck muscle called Bezold's abcesses

Diagnosing Mastoiditis

Your physician may suspect mastoiditis based on your symptoms and health history. Confirmation of this illness can be obtained using several tests, including a CT scan of the ear and head or an X-ray of the skull.

Treatment of Mastoiditis

Treatment of mastoiditis depends on how far the infection has spread. In it's early stages, the disease can be treated by antibiotics, either given by injection, orally or intravenously. Sometimes, ear tubes (myringotomy) may be used to prevent future ear infections and subsequent mastoiditis.

If antibiotics alone are unsuccessful in treating mastoiditis, some of the bone may need to be removed, a procedure called a mastoidectomy.

Sometimes mastoiditis can lead to labrynthitis, which in turn can cause infection of cerebral spinal fluid, meningitis, and even death. However, this is very rare since the invention of antibiotics. Before antibiotics were available, mastoiditis was the leading cause of death in children.


Baylor College of Medicine. Acute Mastoiditis. Accessed: October 30, 2009 from http://www.bcm.edu/oto/grand/2394.html

Medline Plus. Mastoiditis. Accessed: October 30, 2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001034.htm

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