Testing & Diagnosis for Mastoiditis in Children

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How will my doctor diagnose mastoiditis?

In addition to taking a complete medical history and physical examination, your child's physician will inspect the outer ear(s) and eardrum(s) using an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted instrument that allows the physician to see inside of the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement.

Tympanometry, a test that can be performed in most physician offices to help determine how the middle ear is functioning. It does not tell if your child is hearing or not, but helps to detect any changes in pressure in the middle ear. This is a difficult test to perform in younger children because your child needs to sit very still and not be crying, talking, or moving.

Your child's physician may also order the following tests to help confirm the diagnosis:

  • blood work
  • x-rays of the head - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues and bones of the head onto film
  • culture from the infected ear

If your child has symptoms of a brain abscess or other intracranial complication, your child's physician may order the following:

  • computerized tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.)—a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called "slices"), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)--a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

If your child has symptoms of meningitis, your child's physician may order:

  • lumbar puncture--a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes your child's brain and spinal cord.
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