Mastoiditis is an infection of your mastoid process, or the large bone behind your ear. Middle ear infections cause most cases of mastoiditis. Healthcare providers treat mastoiditis with antibiotics. More serious cases require surgery. Mastoiditis was once a common, serious illness. Now, thanks to antibiotics and vaccinations, it’s considered a rare condition.
If you have mastoiditis, you have a bacterial infection in your mastoid — the big bone behind your ear. Mastoiditis starts as a middle ear infection. It once was a common cause of death in very young children. Now, thanks to vaccinations that prevent infection and antibiotics to cure infections, mastoiditis is a relatively rare condition. But people can still develop mastoiditis if they have untreated middle ear infections. Healthcare providers usually use antibiotics to treat this condition. They may also do surgery to treat more serious infections.
There are two types: Chronic mastoiditis and acute mastoiditis:
Although anyone can get mastoiditis at any age, children age 2 and below are more likely to develop mastoiditis.
Most of the time, mastoiditis symptoms develop days or weeks after you or your child develop a middle ear infection. Mastoiditis causes a throbbing pain that doesn’t go away. Other symptoms include:
Very young children — children ages 2 and younger — may have the following symptoms:
Mastoiditis typically happens when middle ear infections go untreated, allowing the infection to spread into the mastoid.
Yes, sometimes a condition called cholesteatoma can cause mastoiditis. Cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth in your middle ear and temporal bone behind your eardrum. Cholesteatomas can be filled with fluid or air.
A healthcare provider will do a physical examination, using an otoscope to look at the inside of your or your child’s ear. They may also do the following tests:
Many times, providers treat mastoiditis with antibiotics and steroids. But if antibiotics don’t seem to help or there’s an abscess in the mastoid, providers may recommend surgery to remove the infected bone. Surgery for mastoiditis may include:
You may not be able to prevent mastoiditis, but there are things you can to do protect yourself and your child:
There are many things you can do to avoid middle ear infections that can lead to mastoiditis, such as:
Usually, mastoiditis symptoms go away a few days after you or your child start taking antibiotics. It’s important that you or your child finish taking all of the antibiotics as prescribed so the infection doesn’t come back.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mastoiditis happens when common middle ear infections go untreated and spread to your mastoid. That’s the large bone behind your ear. Years ago, mastoiditis was a common, serious illness that could be fatal for very young children. Now, we have vaccinations to prevent the middle ear infection that causes mastoiditis. And we have antibiotics to treat those infections. If you think you or your child have a middle ear infection, contact a healthcare provider so you or your child can get treatment and reduce the risk of developing mastoiditis.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/21/2022.
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