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What is Mastoiditis? Print E-mail
Written by Gary Presant, MD   
Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Mastoiditis is an inflammation within the mastoid bone, which is the bone immediately behind the ear. Mastoiditis is usually caused by an infection.

What is going on in the body?

Inflammation that starts in the mastoid itself is quite rare. Mastoiditis is almost always caused by an infection in the middle ear, which is behind the eardrum. Because the mastoid is close to the middle ear, it is easy for middle ear infections, such as acute otitis media, to spread to the mastoid. Chronic or long-lasting mastoiditis lasts for more than 3 months. Acute or shorter-lasting mastoiditis lasts less than 3 weeks.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?
The main cause of acute mastoiditis is untreated or incompletely treated middle ear infection, or acute otitis media. The main cause of chronic mastoiditis is a perforated eardrum combined with a long-lasting infection in the middle ear, known as chronic otitis media. Benign ear growths, particularly cysts known as cholesteatomas, are also frequent causes.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Treatment for acute mastoiditis includes the insertion of an ear tube through the eardrum to allow drainage of infected fluid. A cut can also be made in the eardrum for the same purpose. Antibiotics to treat the infection are also part of treatment. If the infection has reached the stage where bone is being destroyed, surgery may be needed to remove part of the mastoid bone.

The first step in treating chronic mastoiditis is oral or topical antibiotics. If this does not clear up the problem, surgery is needed to remove the diseased part of the mastoid and repair the eardrum. If an ear cyst exists, the cyst is removed and the eardrum repaired. If there has been damage to the bones of the middle ear, this will be repaired as well.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Placement of the drainage tubes can result in complications such as long-lasting holes in the eardrum, ear drainage, and rarely, deafness. Side effects from surgery to remove the mastoid can include damage to nearby structures such as:
- facial paralysis from injury to the facial nerve
- hearing impairment from damage to the bones or nerves in the ear that aid in hearing
- vertigo from damage to the ear's balance system

What happens after treatment for the disease?

Most cases of acute mastoiditis clear up once the ear tube is inserted and antibiotics are started. The tube is left in until it falls out by itself, usually within 6 to 12 months.

If surgery for chronic mastoiditis is successful, the hole in the eardrum will heal closed. The person's hearing will improve, though it may not return to normal in some cases. The ear will stop draining.

How is the disease monitored?
An new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.


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