Acute & Chronic Mastoiditis | Tampa General Hospital

Acute & Chronic Mastoiditis

Mastoiditis is a serious bacterial infection that develops in the mastoid process—a small structure located behind the ear.   

Mastoiditis occurs when the mastoid process—a small, honeycomb-like structure located behind the ear—becomes infected with bacteria. While the mastoid process is often referred to as a bone, it’s actually composed of tiny, hollow air sacs and is a part of the inner ear.

Mastoiditis may be classified as:

  • Acute – The most common type, acute mastoiditis is linked to middle ear infections and most often affects children.
  • Chronic – Chronic mastoiditis describes an ongoing infection that affects both the middle ear and the mastoid process, usually causing persistent ear drainage.

Mastoiditis Causes

Most cases of mastoiditis result from an untreated middle ear infection (otitis media). Pneumococcus bacteria is usually at the root of mastoiditis, although widespread administration of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine has significantly reduced the occurrence of this condition.

Less commonly, a cholesteatoma is to blame for mastoiditis. This rare growth can occur when skill cells collect deep within the ear.

Mastoiditis Symptoms

Mastoiditis and ear infections share many of the same symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of mastoiditis include:

  • Ear discharge
  • Pain, tenderness or redness behind the ear
  • Visible swelling behind the ear
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Impaired hearing in the affected ear
  • Fatigue

It’s important to promptly seek treatment if you or your child is experiencing symptoms of an ear infection or mastoiditis. If left unaddressed, mastoiditis could spread and cause severe complications like:

  • Facial paralysis
  • Vertigo
  • Vision changes
  • A blood clot
  • A brain abscess
  • Blood poisoning
  • Meningitis

Mastoiditis Diagnosis

A patient who is displaying signs of an ear infection or mastoiditis will receive a thorough ear exam. If this exam indicates that the infection may have spread beyond the middle ear, one or more of the following tests may be performed:

  • A CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the ear and head
  • A skull X-ray
  • A white blood cell count

Mastoiditis Treatments

Tampa General Hospital’s ENT & Urology Institute is home to otolaryngologists who excel in mastoiditis treatment. Oral or intravenous antibiotics are the main form of treatment for mastoiditis, sometimes in multiple rounds to ensure the infection has cleared. Less commonly, surgery may be recommended to remove the infected portion of the mastoid process and prevent complications.