What is Mastoiditis?

A potentially life-threatening condition, mastoiditis is caused by a middle ear infection left untreated which then spreads to the mastoid bone. As the mastoid bone is one of the most important structures in your inner ear, it can lead to severe ear pain, fever and eventually hearing loss if left untreated. Mastoiditis is the rarest of all ear infections, affecting the mastoid bone. While it is called a bone, the mastoid is more a porous, spongy air-filled organ which helps create space in the middle ear, protecting the delicate structures of the ear. Infection can cause this delicate bone to break down, it typically affects children, although adults can also develop the condition.

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What are the symptoms of Mastoiditis?

As Mastoiditis is such a serious infection, it is important to take any potential symptoms very seriously and visit a doctor as soon as possible if you, or your child begin to exhibit them. While Mastoiditis symptoms are like the symptoms of other types of ear infections, they may appear more pronounced and can include:

  • A high temperature
  • Severe ear pain
  • Hearing loss in the affected ear which becomes worse over time
  • Discharge draining from the affected ear
  • Redness, swelling, tenderness and pain behind the ear
  • Bad headache
  • Persistent throbbing

Symptoms can occur a few weeks after a bout of Otitis Media as the infection spreads further into the ear. A doctor will determine whether you have Mastoiditis by assessing your symptoms, they may also need to send you for a CT scan to confirm their diagnosis as well as sending samples of the discharge from the affected ear to a lab for analysis.

What are the causes of Mastoiditis?

Mastoiditis is caused by a middle ear infection which has spread to the air cells within the mastoid bone. Mastoiditis can also occur after a brain abscess or similar infection from inside your skull. Another possible cause is the development of a cholesteatoma, a destructive and expanding growth of skin cells.

What available treatments are there?

While severe cases of Mastoiditis can require admission to hospital, the typical treatment for a mild case, or a case caught before it can develop into a more serious infection, is antibiotics administered either orally or intravenously and a thorough clean of the affected area. In most cases, the doctor will prescribe you a broad-spectrum course of antibiotics while a swab is sent to the lab and determine the exact antibiotics required to fight the infection.

In more severe cases, such as acute Mastoiditis an abscess may have formed in the bone which will require surgical intervention to drain, this is known as a mastoidectomy. The middle ear may also need to be drained to remove all infected fluid.

Find out more about some other causes of hearing loss here