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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Mastoid cell disease

03/17/2006

Question:

is it life threatening? Is it curable?

Answer:

"Mastoid cell disease" is not the most common terminology used in otologic (ear) discussion and I am going to assume that you are referring to "mastoiditis" - an inflammation of the mastoid air cells (which is probably a fairly common entity). Mastoiditis is not a life threatening problem in the vast vast majority of patients and is also a very curable problem in the vast vast majority of patients. The mastoid air cells are located behind your ear and is a honeycomb of bony air cells that are normally well-aerated. These air cells connect to your middle ear space (the compartment just deep to your eardrum). In patients who have chronic ear infections, the middle ear and mastoid spaces often become inflamed or filled with fluid. Technically, this can be called "mastoid cell disease" or mastoiditis. Usually, treatment with routine antibiotics can clear up this type of infection. When mastoiditis becomes more chronic, antibiotics may not be as effective and a surgical clean out can be more effective (i.e. a mastoidectomy). In very rare instances, chronic or acute mastoiditis can lead to infection of surrounding tissues such as the brain or major veins that drain the head and neck region. These unusual circumstances can be more serious and require immediate treatment. Apart from a fulminant (full blown) mastoiditis, low grade or subtle mastoiditis can be difficult to detect on physical exam and a CT scan or MRI scan may be needed to assess the mastoid compartment. Its typically on these types of reports where someone can pick up the term "mastoid cell disease".

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Response by:

Daniel   Choo, MD Daniel Choo, MD
Associate Professor and Director, Division of Otology/Neurotology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati