Mastoiditis is a serious infection that affects the mastoid bone behind the ear. It's more common in children and should be diagnosed and treated quickly.
Check if you or your child has mastoiditis
The symptoms of mastoiditis usually include:
- pain, soreness or tenderness behind the ear
- redness behind the ear (this can be harder to see on brown or black skin)
- swelling behind the ear, which can cause it to stick out
- discharge from the ear
- a high temperature
- tiredness and irritability
- hearing loss in the affected ear
You're more likely to get mastoiditis if you have a severe ear infection or get lots of ear infections.
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if you or your child have:
What happens at your GP appointment
Mastoiditis is a serious infection and should be diagnosed and treated quickly.
If you have symptoms of mastoiditis, a GP will use a small magnifying lens called an otoscope to check for infection inside the ear.
If the GP thinks you have mastoiditis, they'll refer you to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist at a hospital.
Sometimes a scan may be needed to show the mastoid bone in more detail.
Treatments for mastoiditis
If you have mastoiditis, you'll be treated by an ear specialist in hospital.
The main treatment is antibiotics. These are given directly into a vein through a drip (intravenously).
You'll usually need to stay in hospital for 1 or 2 days to make sure the antibiotics are working.
If your symptoms start to get better, you may be given antibiotic tablets to take at home.
If antibiotics do not work or the infection gets worse, you may need:
- treatment to drain pus from your ear using a needle or by making a small cut in or behind the ear
- surgery to remove part of the mastoid bone (mastoidectomy)
Page last reviewed: 23 March 2023
Next review due: 23 March 2026