It may not be as common as it used to be, but you still can’t afford to miss it - Mariah Bellinger MD


image by: Faye Wild‎ mastoiditis


You have probably heard the advice “trust your gut” – as a mom, you’re supposed to have a special intuition, a feeling, about what’s best for your kid. Except often times, you don’t. Or at least, I don’t. There’s so much information out there are so many opinions that it’s hard to let your gut guide you. Honestly, I don’t live based on my intuition all the time – I like to think it’s a healthy mix between a feeling and some good ol’ fashioned research and logic...

On Christmas morning, my 4-year-old daughter woke up with a high fever and complaining her ear hurt. So much so that she didn’t open a single gift, not a stocking, nothing. She didn’t even care that Santa had come and he had eaten the cookies or there was a literally a roller coaster in her living room. Nothing. That’s when you know a kid is sick. We got her in to her Pediatrician (whom I love and trust completely) the next day, who confirmed she had an ear infection and started her on Augmentin, totally standard antibiotic. She still wasn’t feeling better by Wednesday – spiking high fevers and just feeling generally yucky and super uncomfortable. The Ped ordered a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia – results were negative. When girlfriend was still feeling bad on Thursday, I took her back to the office. The Ped checked out her ear and said it looked clear but prescribed her a different antibiotic to treat whatever else was going on.

That evening, my husband gave Q a shower and noticed that the back of her ear was red, puffy and tender. Thankfully, he mentioned it to me. I am not usually a Google-mom, I’m not super alarmist, and I’m generally optimistic about my kids’ health because I have no reason not to be. But I Googled it: “ear infection with redness behind ear”. The second I read the result I knew it’s what she had: mastoiditis.

The “what ifs” and “coulds” are pretty bad: could turn into meningitis, could cause an abscess in the brain, could cause an embolism, could cause permanent hearing loss.

She woke up on Friday morning feeling better than she had in days; low grade fever, joking and playing more. But something told me – my mom gut – that I needed to get her in to the doctor, that day, before the holiday weekend. I called the pediatrician ready to feel like an idiot; of course she couldn’t have mastoiditis, it’s so rare! Literally a 0.004% chance… Diagnoses from the internet are never right. Right? My pediatrician got me in right away. I called my mother-in-law before I left the house to meet me at the doctor’s office because I had a feeling she would need to take my little guy from the office because we wouldn’t be heading home. Mom gut.

The doctor took one look at the back of her ear and confirmed my suspicion: mastoiditis. She called the Pediatric ENT at the hospital down the street and he told us to come right away, no eating or drinking for my girl, and to head straight to the ER. Friday is kind of a blur – ER, CT scan to confirm the mastoid bone had fluid in it, meeting with the surgeon and then sending our girl into the OR 20 minutes later. Holding my breath in the surgery waiting area with dozens of other anxious parents, kids and loved ones, staring at an electronic board and waiting for the status to change to “surgery complete”. Seeing her after surgery on her way to the MRI, lifeless under the sedation. Waiting more for the MRI to be done and meeting her groggy little body in recovery to wait her her to wake up.

The surgeon inserted a tube into her middle ear, a super common procedure for kids with frequent ear infections to allow for better drainage. He also performed a mastoidectomy, where he created a hole through which the infected fluid could drain from the mastoid bone. My gal has stitches and a puffy ear, but both will fade in the coming weeks.

We’re still in the hospital because the protocol is 7 days of IV antibiotics – strong ones – after a bacterial infection that affects the bone like she had. Her mastoid bone was deteriorating and the infection was heading deeper towards her brain; it simply had nowhere else to go and no way to drain. The surgeon told us he does 2-3 of these surgeries each year and remembers each one because they are so rare.

Since the surgery, there’s been no fever, her markers of infection (inflammation and white blood cell count) have decreased, and her overall demeanor is back to normal. I’m so thankful I trusted myself, my intuition, my mom gut and made the call that morning instead of waiting it out at the risk of sounding overbearing or crazy. The what ifs are too scary to think about.

So just know that YOU are the one who knows your child best; if you feel like they aren’t right or aren’t getting well, don’t be afraid to call your doctor or speak up. Don’t worry about sounding crazy. You are your child’s best advocate.

Source: Val, Trusting Your Mom Gut, Lovely Lucky Life, January 5, 2017.

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Last Updated : Thursday, July 22, 2021