Incidental mastoid effusion diagnosed on imaging: Are we doing right by our patients?

Navdeep R Sayal
Sara Boyd
G Zach White
Matthew Farrugia


OBJECTIVES/HYPOTHESIS: To investigate whether radiologist-produced imaging reports containing the terms mastoiditis or mastoid opacification clinically correlate with physical examination findings of mastoiditis. Additionally, to investigate whether and how often otolaryngology was unnecessarily consulted and inappropriate antibiotic therapy was initiated.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective chart review within a large community hospital setting.

METHODS: A retrospective review of 160 patients who had imaging tests performed for nonotolaryngology indications from January 2011 to March 2017 at our facility. Indications, patient demographics, otolaryngology consultations, and new antibiotics started were recorded. Physical examinations were documented.

RESULTS: Physical examination revealed that only 14 of 160 patients (8.8%) had clinical evidence of otologic disease. However, of the 160 patients meeting the inclusion criteria, 18 (11.3%) received an otolaryngology consultation, and 18 (11.3%) had antibiotics started. Eleven of the 18 patients in each group (61.1%) had a normal physical examination, two (11.1%) had serous otitis media, one (5.6%) had chronic otitis media, and four (22.2%) had acute otitis media. No patients were found to have clinical mastoiditis. χ

CONCLUSIONS: This study highlights the prevalence of incidental but clinically insignificant opacification of the mastoid cavity. We believe that nonotolaryngology physicians are, overall, competent to correlate such radiologic findings clinically and to prevent unnecessary consultations and inappropriate treatment, which add significant costs to our overstretched healthcare system.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: 4 Laryngoscope, 129:852-857, 2019.