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Mastoiditis in Children

What is mastoiditis in children?

Mastoiditis is a bacterial infection of the mastoid bone with inflammation. This bone is one of the bones in the head. It is the hard bone located behind the ear. The mastoid bone is made of cells that drain the middle ear. Mastoiditis may be mild or very serious.

What causes mastoiditis in a child?

Mastoiditis is a complication of a middle ear infection. It happens when the infection in the middle ear spreads into the mastoid bone.

What are the symptoms of mastoiditis in a child?

Here are the most common symptoms of mastoiditis:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling behind the ear

  • Ear pain

  • An ear lobe that sticks out because of swelling of the mastoid bone

  • Fever

  • Being grouchy or fussy

  • Pulling the ear or hitting it

  • A bad smell coming from the ear

  • Pus or other fluid coming from the ear

  • Headache

  • Hearing loss

Some of these symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. Have your child see their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is mastoiditis diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. They will examine your child. The provider will pay close attention to the ears, nose, and throat. They will use a lighted instrument called an otoscope to look at the middle ear. Your child may need an X-ray and CT scans of the mastoid area. Fluid from the middle ear may be sent to the lab to be checked.

How is mastoiditis treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment often includes antibiotic medicine and draining the middle ear. Depending on the seriousness of the infection, the antibiotics can be given in the vein or by mouth. Your child may need ear tubes. Your child may need to stay in the hospital. Some children may need other surgery. If you are sent home with antibiotics, it's very important to give the medicine as directed and finish the entire prescription. The prescription should be finished even if your child no longer has symptoms.

What are possible complications of mastoiditis in a child?

Possible complications include:

  • Hearing loss

  • Serious infection in nearby tissue

  • Facial nerve damage

  • Inner ear problems

  • Inflammation or infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

Mastoiditis is often treated by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT or otolaryngologist). It's very important for your child to go to all follow-up appointments to check for hearing problems and other complications. Most children recover without long-term problems if they get treatment quickly, take medicine as directed, and go to follow-up appointments.

How can I help prevent mastoiditis in my child?

Mastoiditis is a complication of a middle ear infection. So it's important to get medical care and treat an ear infection before it spreads to the mastoid bone.

Key points about mastoiditis in children

  • Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid bone with inflammation.

  • It is a complication of a middle ear bacterial infection. It happens when the infection in the middle ear spreads into the mastoid bone.

  • Treatment often includes antibiotic medicine and draining the middle ear.

  • This condition is often treated by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT or otolaryngologist).

  • Complications can include hearing loss, facial nerve damage, and meningitis. Go to all follow-up appointments to check for hearing problems and other complications.

  • Prompt treatment of all ear infections can help prevent mastoiditis.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ashutosh Kacker MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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