Mastoiditis is a bacterial infection of the mastoid bone. The mastoid bone, which sits behind the ear, consists of air spaces that help drain the middle ear.
When the mastoid cells become infected or inflamed, often as a result of an unresolved middle ear infection (otitis media), mastoiditis can develop. In acute mastoiditis, infection may spread outside of the mastoid bone and cause serious health complications.
The symptoms of swimmer's ear include:
Itching inside the ear
Watery discharge from the ear
Severe pain and tenderness in the ear, especially when moving your head or when gently pulling on the earlobe
A foul-smelling, yellowish discharge from the ear
Temporarily muffled hearing (caused by blockage of the ear canal)
Mastoiditis typically affects children, but adults can also be affected.
Some people have chronic mastoiditis, an ongoing infection of the middle ear and mastoid that causes persistent drainage from the ear.
As mentioned above, mastoiditis most often develops as a result of a middle ear infection. Bacteria from the middle ear can travel into the air cells of the mastoid bone. In addition, a type of skin cyst in the middle ear, called a cholesteatoma, may block drainage of the ear, leading to mastoiditis.
Mastoiditis symptoms may include:
Fever, irritability, and lethargy
Swelling of the ear lobe
Redness and tenderness behind the ear
Drainage from the ear
Bulging and drooping of the ear (in acute mastoiditis)
Any unusual ear or fever symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor. The doctor will look inside the ear with a special instrument to see if an infection is present and evaluate ear function. If mastoiditis is suspected, your doctor may recommend other tests to confirm the diagnosis, including:
ear culture (removal of fluid or other substances from the ear to check for infection)
If severe infection is suspected, your doctor may also recommend more in depth tests, such as a CT scan or MRI. If your doctor is concerned you may have developed meningitis as a result of mastoiditis, a lumbar puncture will be performed to test spinal fluid for infection.
Chronic mastoiditis is treated with oral antibiotics, eardrops, and regular ear cleanings by a doctor. If these treatments do not work, surgery may be necessary to prevent further complications.
If you or your child is diagnosed with acute mastoiditis, you may be put in the hospital to receive treatment and care by an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders. Antibiotics will be given through an IV (intravenous line) to treat the infection.