Situated behind the ear, the mastoid bone is made up of numerous air sacs whose function is to assist in the drainage process within the middle ear. When cells within the mastoid bone are inflamed or infected, individuals develop a fairly rare condition known as mastoiditis. Also referred to as mastoid infection of the ear, mastoiditis is caused by either a bacterial attack of the middle ear, or by a kind of skin cyst known as a cholesteatoma, which also blocks drainage of the middle ear.
This article will provide you with all the information you need to know about this potentially hazardous ailment, and is divided into the following sections:
- Symptoms of Mastoid Infection of the Ear
- Chronic vs. Acute Pain on Skull Behind Ear
1. Symptoms of Mastoid Infection of the Ear
The most common symptoms associated with mastoiditis are similar to those exhibited by individuals suffering from ear infections. These include:
Fever accompanied by the feeling of lethargy and irritability. Fevers brought on by a mastoid infection of the ear tend to be characterized by elevated, spiking fevers which are separated by short periods of normal body temperature in between.
- Drainage (leaking) from the infected ear
- Pain within the ear
- Some degree of hearing loss in the infected ear
- Tenderness, swelling, and redness of the earlobe and the area behind the infected ear. This is commonly accompanied with pain on bone behind ear.
A severe mastoid infection can result in the development of brain abscesses and other skull-related complications. In these cases, individuals suffer from chronic headaches and papilledema, a condition which refers to the swelling that occurs behind a person’s eyes. Individuals suffering from acute mastoiditis may also suffer from the dropping or bulging of the affected ear.
2. Pain on Skull Behind Ear: Chronic vs. Acute Mastoiditis
The term chronic mastoiditis refers to the disease process which occurs for a period longer than three months whereas acute mastoiditis refers to a rapid onset of the disease, reaching its peak normally in less than 3 weeks.
Acute mastoid infection is typically caused by untreated ear infections. As such, acute mastoid infections are directly linked to bacterial infections. Within 10 to 14 days of infection, sufferers experience mastoid pain as a result of the destruction of the mastoid bone. Mastoid bone pain is commonly accompanied by the accumulation of pus under the skin located behind the ear. Left untreated, acute mastoiditis infections can affect the sternocleidomastoid muscle, causing deep abscesses.
As a direct result, individuals with acute mastoiditis have an elevated risk of developing meningitis and cerebellar abscess. The cerebellum is a chief player in fine motor coordination particularly the walking process. Thus, cerebellum abscesses cause individuals to suffer long-term effects such as loss of coordination and walking difficulties. Moreover, survivors of the high mortality rate associated with meningitis may suffer from significant neurological dysfunction.
Chronic mastoiditis is often accompanied with a perforation of the eardrum. Infected material drains through this hole and causes the lining within the mastoid to become thick and inflamed. It is also caused by cholesteatoma, also known as a mastoid tumor or cyst. Should chronic mastoiditis go untreated, individuals with the condition can suffer further long-term effects including facial paralysis, vertigo, nerve deafness, lateral sinus thrombosis, and meningitis.
The basis for the treatment of acute mastoiditis involves the employment of a “pressure equalization tube” or through making an incision within the eardrum. This is done in order to allow the disease-ridden material to drain out of the ear, and is accompanied with the application of antibiotics directly targeting the specific bacteria present within the ear.
If the mastoid infection has become too thick, treatment requires the placement of a tube inside the eardrum. This is followed by a partial mastoidectomy to channel out the contamination and appropriate antibiotics to resolve the issue.
Home treatment can include topical or oral antibiotics. Should the infection continue and does not respond to therapy, surgery to remove the damaged mastoid lining is required to re-establish a communication channel between the middle ear and the mastoid, and also, to restore the tympanic membrane. If a cholesteatoma is present, it must be extracted, the eardrum restored, and reconstruction of the ear be done surgically.
In summary, mastoiditis typically arises from untreated bacterial infections. The symptoms associated with the condition include chronic headaches, pain on skull behind ear, fever and some degree of hearing loss. Left untreated, the condition can lead to other more serious conditions such as meningitis, and further long-term effects include facial paralysis and lateral sinus thrombosis. Treatment for the disease may unfortunately need surgical extraction along with oral, intravenous and/or topical application of antibiotics.
I hope this article helped shed some light on this troubling ear problem. If it did, please share with those you feel may find it useful.