Purpose To stratify differences in visual semantic and quantitative imaging features in intensive care patients with nonspecific mastoid effusions versus patients with acute mastoiditis (AM) requiring surgical treatment. Methods We included 48 patients (male, 28; female, 20; mean age, 59.5 ± 18.1 years) with mastoid opacification (AM, n = 24; control, n = 24) who underwent clinically indicated cerebral CT between 12/2007 and 07/2018 in this retrospective study. Semantic features described the extend and asymmetry of mastoid and middle-ear cavity opacification and complications like erosive changes. Minimum, maximum and mean Hounsfield unit (HU) values were obtained as quantitative features. We analyzed the features employing univariate testing. Results Compared to intensive care patients, AM patients revealed asymmetric mastoid or middle-ear cavity opacification (likelihood-ratio (LR) < 0.001). Applying a dedicated threshold of the extent of opacification, AM patients reached significance levels of LR = 0.042 and 0.002 for mastoid and middle-ear cavity opacification. AM cases showed higher maximum and mean HU values (p = 0.009, p = 0.024). Conclusions We revealed that the extent and asymmetry of mastoid and middle-ear cavity opacification differs significantly between AM patients and intensive care patients. Multicenter research is needed to expand our cohort and possibly pave the way to build a non-invasive predictive model for AM in the future.