Mastoiditis is the term used to describe an infection in the mastoid air cells of the mastoid bone located behind the ear. The mastoid air cells are small-sized cavities filled with air in the bulging area behind the ear. The disease is mild at first presentation, but leads to a serious life-threatening condition when not treated.
Common symptoms of a moderate level of mastoid air cell disease include pain behind the ear, swelling of the lobe or a recent infection in the ear. Fever and irritability are often present along with swelling in the mastoid bone found behind the ear. Some infections may cause a discharge from the ear that becomes more prolific as the disease advances. Symptoms of the mastoid air cell disease appear several days after the disease develops.
The bacterial infection of mastoiditis results from a recent infection or inflammation in the middle ear. The infection spreads to the mucus membrane that surrounds the mastoid process and moves on to the mastoid bone. Children with reoccurring ear infections have an increased risk of contracting the disease as the bacteria is already present in the middle ear area. Promptly treating the ear infection reduces the chance of contracting this disease.
Consult a physician when symptoms are present as they are often similar to other medical conditions. A physical examination of the ear is completed with an otoscope, a lighted magnifying instrument that allows the physician to view the eardrum. The physician will blow air into the ear to test eardrum movement. A tympanometry test is used to diagnose the current function of the middle ear and requires the patient to remain quiet and sit completely still during the procedure. Additional testing includes a head X-ray, blood work and a culture of fluid from the infected ear.
Moderate cases of mastoiditis are treated with antibiotics and hospitalization to evaluate the healing process. Surgery to drain middle ear fluid is required in cases where antibiotics do not reduce infection. Severe cases require surgery to remove diseased bone.
Mastoid air cell disease is a serious condition that must be treated to prevent spreading infection to the brain. Severe cases of the disease may lead to meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain. The risk of a brain abscess exists; it could result in pus and infectious material collecting in the brain cavity.