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Acute mastoiditis


  • Acute mastoiditis is a rare but serious complication of otitis media.
  • Refer patients with a retroauricular or neck abscess associated with otitis media to hospital as emergencies.

Epidemiology and symptoms

  • The incidence in children in the Western countries is 2–4 infections/100,000 person-years.
  • Purulent otitis media predisposes to mastoiditis.
  • The clinical picture consists of
    • high fever
    • marked pain and tenderness of the ear
    • swelling, redness, and tenderness on percussion of the retroauricular area
    • the auricle turned out- and downwards (lateral displacement)
    • impaired general condition.
  • If antibiotics are administered the disease may be milder but results in secretory or chronic otitis media with discharge.


  • Laboratory findings
    • Leucocytosis
    • Increased ESR and CRP
  • The primary x-ray examination in acute mastoiditis is a CT scan showing the collection of fluid in the cavi of the mastoid bone, possible destructive bone changes as well as subperiostal abscesses. If an intracranial complication is suspected, an MRI study is indicated.

Differential diagnosis

  • Otitis externa with swelling of the outer auditory canal. The symptoms are not as severe as in mastoiditis, there is no tenderness or swelling behind the auricle, the results of the laboratory tests are only slightly abnormal, and the mastoid is radiologically normal.
  • If a patient has lymphadenitis of the neck, always examine the ears.
  • In otitis media, there is always some accumulation of fluid in the mastoid air cells but no bone destruction.


  • Refer the patient to a specialist unit without delay. If treatment with intravenous antibiotics is not successful within 1–2 days, mastoidectomy should be performed. The operation consists of opening and cleansing of the middle ear and the mastoid air cells.
  • Tympanocentesis is indicated to evacuate infectious secretions, to relieve the pressure, and to prevent necrosis of the tympanic membrane. At the same time, it is possible to obtain a sample for bacterial culture from the aspirate to identify the cause of infection. Insertion of a tympanostomy tube is usually warranted.

Copyright © 2017 Duodecim Medical Publications Limited.
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"Acute Mastoiditis." Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines, Duodecim Medical Publications Limited, 2019. Evidence Central, evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453121/all/Acute_mastoiditis.
Acute mastoiditis. Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Duodecim Medical Publications Limited; 2019. https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453121/all/Acute_mastoiditis. Accessed August 21, 2019.
Acute mastoiditis. (2019). In Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Available from https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453121/all/Acute_mastoiditis
Acute Mastoiditis [Internet]. In: Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Duodecim Medical Publications Limited; 2019. [cited 2019 August 21]. Available from: https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453121/all/Acute_mastoiditis.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Acute mastoiditis ID - 453121 BT - Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines UR - https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453121/all/Acute_mastoiditis PB - Duodecim Medical Publications Limited DB - Evidence Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -