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Causes of Mastoiditis

written by: Margo • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/4/2010

Mastoiditis is a severe infection of the middle ear. If left untreated, it can result in hearing loss or even death. Learn about the causes of mastoiditis in this article.

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    Mastoiditis affects the mastoid bone, which is located near the middle of the ear canal. It is a rare condition that affects mostly children. Milder cases only cause mild to severe discomfort, but advanced cases can lead to meningitis or even entirely destroy the mastoid bone. Knowing the causes of mastoiditis can help to prevent this condition.

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    Causes

    One of the most common causes of mastoiditis is an untreated middle ear infection, also known as otitis media. If the infection becomes severe, it can spread into the mastoid bone, taking up residence in all of the tiny air holes the bone contains. These holes, known as air cells, assist in draining the middle ear. If they become blocked with infection, fluid begins to build up and create painful pressure. At this point, it doesn't take long for the infection to accelerate and eventually, it begins to deteriorate the mastiod bone. The infection will also begin to spread outside of the mastoid, creating more serious complications.

    A history of recurring ear infections may also lead to a case of mastoiditis. Children are more likely to develop ear infections because of the shorter size of the middle of their ear canal, which allows bacteria to make its way into the ear. If a child has had multiple ear infections already, he or she has a greater likelihood of developing this condition. Children with a history of middle ear infections will probably be closely monitored by their physicians, with the hopes that mastoiditis will be caught early, if it begins to develop, preventing many of the more serious complications.

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    Complications

    If left untreated, a mastoiditis infection will begin to break down the mastoid bone or damage the fragile parts of the middle ear. This can lead to hearing loss. There is also a chance that the infection will spread to other parts of the body, causing conditions like meningitis or brain abscess. Another possible, but very rare, complication can lead to thrombosis, or a blood clot, caused by the infection. Although the infection, abscess and thrombosis are all treatable if caught early, medical advice and treatment must be sought immediately for the best outcome.

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    References

    My Child Has Mastoiditis, http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1276/mainpageS1276P0.html Accessed December 2009.

    Accute and Chronic Mastoiditis, http://www.childrensmemorial.org/depts/otolaryngology/ear2.aspx Accessed December 2009.

    Middle Ear Infections, http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/ear/otitis_media.html# Accessed December 2009.