What Is Mastoiditis?
The mastoid bone sits right behind the ear in the skull. Mastoiditis is an infection of this bone and is most often caused by middle ear infections. In the event of severe ear infections, the infection can spread from the ear into the mastoid bone where it can cause acute mastoiditis, with significant pain and other symptoms. Chronic mastoiditis can also occur after an infection, but typically does not cause severe pain and fever. With chronic mastoiditis, recurrent ear infections or ear drainage often occurs.
In addition to symptoms common with ear infections, such as pain and drainage from the ear, acute mastoiditis can present other signs, including:
- A sudden high fever — Body temperature greater than 98.6˚F is a fever, a biological response that helps the body clear infections.
- Dizziness — Feelings of imbalance, floating or spinning are common and can lead to falls or injuries.
- Hearing loss — This partial or complete inability to hear in the affected ear will typically resolve when an infection clears.
- Redness and swelling — The area behind the ear may turn red and the skin behind the ear may swell, causing the ear to stick out.
An initial physical exam is a common way to identify mastoiditis. Following an exam, computed tomography (CT) scans are often used to confirm a diagnosis. Bacterial cultures may also be used to uncover the cause of the infection. Depending on the severity, mastoiditis may require a combination of therapeutic approaches. Once diagnosis is complete, treatment for mastoiditis can proceed in different ways, including:
- Medication — If mastoiditis is not very severe, antibiotics can first be used to treat the infection.
- Surgery — For severe infections, surgery is the most effective course of treatment. Surgeons drain the mastoid, or infection in the bone (mastoidectomy), and may also perform a procedure to drain an infection in the middle ear (ear tubes). Once surgery is complete, antibiotics are prescribed to clear up any remaining infection.
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