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Mastoidectomy is a surgical procedure to remove an infected portion of the bone behind the ear when medical treatment is not effective. This surgery is rarely needed today because of the widespread use of antibiotics.


Mastoidectomy is performed to remove infected air cells within the mastoid bone caused by mastoiditis, ear infection, or an inflammatory disease of the middle ear (cholesteatoma). The cells are open spaces containing air that are located throughout the mastoid bone. They are connected to a cavity in the upper part of the bone, which is in turn connected to the middle ear. As a result, infections in the middle ear can sometimes spread through the mastoid bone. When antibiotics cannot clear this infection, it may be necessary to remove the infected air cells by surgery. Mastoidectomies are also performed sometimes to repair paralyzed facial nerves.


Mastoidectomy is performed less often today because of the widespread use of antibiotics to treat ear infections.
There are several different types of mastoidectomy:
  • Simple (or closed). The operation is performed through the ear or through a cut (incision) behind the ear. The surgeon opens the mastoid bone and removes the infected air cells. The eardrum is cut (incised) to drain the middle ear. Topical antibiotics are then placed in the ear.
  • Radical mastoidectomy. The eardrum and most middle ear structures are removed, but the innermost small bone (the stapes) is left behind so that a hearing aid can be used later to offset the hearing loss.
  • Modified radical mastoidectomy. The eardrum and the middle ear structures are saved, which allows for better hearing than is possible after a radical operation.
The wound is then stitched up around a drainage tube, which is removed a day or two later. The procedure usually takes between two and three hours.


The doctor will give the patient a thorough ear, nose, and throat examination as well as a detailed hearing test before surgery. Patients are given an injection before surgery to make them drowsy.


Painkillers are usually needed for the first day or two after the operation. The patient should drink fluids freely. After the stitches are removed, the bulky mastoid dressing can be replaced with a smaller dressing if the ear is still draining. The patient is given antibiotics for several days.
The patient should tell the doctor if any of the following symptoms occur:
  • Bright red blood on the dressing.
  • Stiff neck or disorientation. These may be signs of meningitis.
  • Facial paralysis, drooping mouth, or problems swallowing.


Complications do not often occur, but they may include:
  • Persistent ear drainage.
  • Infections, including meningitis or brain abscesses.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Facial nerve injury. This is a rare complication.
  • Temporary dizziness.
  • Temporary loss of taste on the side of the tongue.

Key terms

Cholesteatoma — A rare but chronic inflammatory disease in which skin cells and debris collect in the middle ear, usually as a result of an ear infection.
Mastoid bone — The prominent bone behind the ear that projects from the temporal bone of the skull.
Mastoiditis — An inflammation of the bone behind the ear (the mastoid bone) caused by an infection spreading from the middle ear to the cavity in the mastoid bone.



American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Inc. One Prince St., Alexandria VA 22314-3357. (703) 836-4444.
American Hearing Research Foundation. 55 E. Washington St., Suite 2022, Chicago, IL 60602. (312) 726-9670.
Better Hearing Institute. 515 King Street, Suite 420, Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 684-3391.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


surgical removal of mastoid cells; the most frequent indication for this is chronic infection in the mastoid process occurring as a complication of chronic otitis media. The extent of surgery depends on extent of destruction. A radical mastoidectomy involves removal of diseased portions of the mastoid process as well as the incus and malleus of the middle ear and the tympanic membrane. The degree of hearing loss following mastoidectomy depends on the extent of surgery. In some cases tympanoplasty (plastic reconstruction of the middle ear) can preserve much of the hearing. (For nursing care after ear surgery, see ear.)
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.


A group of operations on the mastoid process of the temporal bone and middle ear to drain, expose, or remove an infectious, inflammatory, or neoplastic lesion.
[mastoid (process) + G. ektomē, excision]
Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary © Farlex 2012


n. pl. mastoidecto·mies
Surgical removal of mastoid cells or part or all of the mastoid process.
The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


A procedure used to close a persistently discharging mastoid cavity, which does not improve with regular cleansing and antibiotics, as a way of eliminating mastoid infection and obliterating or filling a previously created mastoid cavity.
An incision is made behind the ear; the lining of the mastoid cavity is elevated and, if there is residual infection, the infected bone is curetted and the cavity filled with hydroxyapatite granules and covered with cartilage and skin flaps to create a healthy ear canal. The procedure may require reconstruction of eardrum with cartilage and the native ossicular chain replaced with a titanium graft. The ear is then packed with ribbon gauze and soaked with antiseptic paste to keep the graft in place until it heals.

85% of patients have dry, trouble-free ears; 60% hear better.
Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.


Head&neck surgery Partial excision of part of the mastoid cells or mastoid process. See Modified radical mastoidectomy, Radical mastoidectomy.
McGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


Hollowing out of the mastoid process by curretting, gouging, drilling, or otherwise removing the bony partitions forming the mastoid cells.
[mastoid (process) + G. ektomē, excision]
Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing © Farlex 2012


An operation to chisel off part of the surface bone of the mastoid process behind the ear so as to release pus, allow drainage and prevent inward spread of infection in MASTOIDITIS.
Collins Dictionary of Medicine © Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
According to the IHA data, (8) 387 revision CWD mastoidectomies were performed in Illinois during 2011.
This was evident in our study, which demonstrated that almost half (45%) of the CWD mastoidectomies performed were revisions of previous CWD surgeries.
In addition, we are unaware of any national database that contains statistics on all mastoidectomies in general and revision surgeries in particular.
There exists a few months' delay before IHA data are made available to subscribers each year, and this might have led to an underestimation of our projected costs of CWD mastoidectomies performed in Illinois in 2011.
Of course, we assume that the vast majority of mastoidectomies are performed on an outpatient basis.
In the information age, vast data exist on subjects much less important than the number of mastoidectomies. For example, according to one Web site, in the White House there are 13,092 forks, knives, and spoons.
population, indicate that at least 30,000 and as many as 60,000 mastoidectomies are performed annually in the United States.
Prostatectomies in 2005 (16) 155,000 Rhytidectomies in 2002 (17) 117,831 Mastoidectomies in 2002 * [less than or equal to] 60,000 Deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2002 (18) 44,065 Deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in 2002 (19) 27,257 Words in the average educated person's vocabulary (20) 20,000 Knives, forks, and spoons in the White House (15) 13,092 Taste buds on the tongue (21) 10,000 Instruments and sponges left in surgical patients yearly (22) 1,500
Of the 14 mastoidectomies that had been performed because conservative treatment had failed, the initial antibiotic was switched postoperatively in 5.
Our finding that 26 of the 53 mastoidectomies (49.1%) had been performed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms is consistent with results published in other reports.
Of the 14 mastoidectomies that had been performed because patients had not responded to conservative therapy, a subperiosteal abscess was found in 9 (64.3%), 1 of which was associated with a cholesteatoma.