What is mastoiditis?
The mastoid is the name for the bone found behind the ear. It looks a bit like honeycomb and contains lots of air-filled holes that surround the middle and inner ear. Mastoiditis is a potentially serious infection of the mastoid bone, typically following from an untreated ear infection. Both adults and children can get it, but it’s more common in children.
Mastoiditis is typically caused by an untreated or persistent ear infection that spreads to the air-filled cells of the mastoid bone.
Another, but much less common, cause of mastoiditis is cholesteatoma, a growth of skin cells behind the eardrum which blocks the ear’s ability to drain properly.
Signs of mastoiditis usually include:
Tenderness, pain, and sometimes swelling behind the ear
Feeling tired and irritable
Hearing loss in the affected ear
Treatment for mastoiditis will usually involve a course of antibiotics to fight the infection. This might just involve taking tablets for a few days, or it might involve a stay in hospital where specialists can treat the infection intravenously.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to drain the fluid from the middle ear (called a myringotomy) or, in severe cases, surgery might involves removing part of the infected mastoid bone (called a mastoidectomy).
Complications of mastoiditis
As with many other conditions, there is a risk of mastoiditis developing into further complications. Some of these can be serious – which is why it’s important to seek help as soon as you experience symptoms.
In severe cases, mastoiditis can lead to:
A blood clot
Meningitis or a brain abscess
Mastoiditis recovery time
Depending on the extent of the infection, symptoms should improve after being on antibiotics for a few days. It’s important that you finish the whole course of antibiotics that your GP has prescribed, even if you’re feeling better.
If you have had surgery to treat mastoiditis, it will likely take a couple of weeks to fully recover. During your recovery time it’s important that you don’t get the affected ear wet. Your doctor will be able to give you more detailed instructions and advice about your recovery.
To reduce the risk of developing mastoiditis, it’s important to see your GP if you have symptoms of an ear infection so that it can be treated effectively. Sorting out the ear infection means there’s less chance of the infection travelling further into the ear where it can develop into mastoiditis.
With prompt and effective treatment, mastoiditis can be treated without any lasting damage. However, there is a risk of the infection developing into much more serious and potentially lifechanging conditions.
Your GP will examine the inside of the ear, and if they suspect mastoiditis, they will refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) to investigate further. They might take a blood test, check any discharge you have for infection, and children might have a CT or MRI scan in order to get a more detailed view of the skull.
Yes – symptoms of mastoiditis can include headaches.