What is mastoiditis?

Mastoiditis is an inflammation or infection of the mastoid bone, which is a portion of the temporal bone. The mastoid consists of air cells that drain the middle ear. Mastoiditis can be a mild infection or can develop into life-threatening complications. Mastoiditis is usually a complication of acute otitis media (middle ear infection).

Prevention & Risk Treatment

Prevention & Risk Treatment

What causes mastoiditis?

Mastoiditis is usually a result of an extension of the inflammation of the middle ear infection into the mastoid air cells. A child with mastoiditis usually has a history of having a recent ear infection or has middle ear infections that continue to reoccur. The risk of mastoiditis is reduced with the use of antibiotics for ear infections. Mastoiditis may be caused by various bacteria.

What are the symptoms of mastoiditis?

The following are the most common symptoms for mastoiditis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain behind the ear
  • Swelling of the ear lobe
  • Recent ear infection
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Redness or swelling of the bone behind the ear
  • Drainage from an ear infection
  • Headache
  • Hearing loss

The symptoms of mastoiditis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.



How is mastoiditis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your child's doctor will inspect the outer ear(s) and eardrum(s) using an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted instrument that allows the doctor to see inside of the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement. The otoscope is used to diagnose otitis media.

Tympanometry, a test that can be performed in most doctors' offices to help determine how the middle ear is functioning. It does not tell if the child is hearing or not, but helps to detect any changes in pressure in the middle ear. This is a difficult test to perform in younger children because the child needs to sit very still and not be crying, talking, or moving.

Your child's doctor may also order the following tests to help confirm the diagnosis:

  • Blood work
  • X-rays of the head. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues and bones of the head onto film.
  • Culture from the infected ear

If your child has symptoms of a brain abscess or other intracranial complication, your child's doctor may order the following:

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

If your child has symptoms of meningitis, your child's doctor may order a:

  • Lumbar puncture. A special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes your child's brain and spinal cord.
Children's Team

Children's Team



George Zalzal

Division Chief, Ear, Nose, and Throat (Otolaryngology)


Ear, Nose and Throat (Otolaryngology)

Our pediatric ENT (otolaryngology) experts provide advanced, comprehensive services for children.

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