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Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1154-61. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-2689. Epub 2010 Apr 5.

Symptoms or symptom-based scores cannot predict acute otitis media at otitis-prone age.

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Department of Pediatrics, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland.



Acute symptoms are used to diagnose and manage acute otitis media (AOM). We studied whether AOM could be predicted by the reason for parental suspicion of AOM or by the occurrence, duration, and/or severity of symptoms. We also compared scores including or excluding tympanic-membrane examination of children with and without AOM.


Children aged 6 to 35 months with parental suspicion of AOM were eligible. Before tympanic-membrane examination, we registered on a structured questionnaire the reason for parental suspicion of AOM, symptoms, and score components.


Of 469 children studied, 237 had AOM and 232 had respiratory tract infection without AOM. The most common reason for parental suspicion of AOM, restless sleep, was not predictive for AOM (RR: 1.0 [95% CI: 0.8-1.2]), nor was ear-rubbing (relative risk [RR]: 0.7 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.5-1.0]). Neither the occurrence of fever (RR: 1.2 [95% CI: 1.0-1.4]) nor the highest mean temperature within 24 hours predicted AOM, nor did the occurrences of ear-related, nonspecific, respiratory, or gastrointestinal symptoms. The duration and severity of symptoms were not predictive for AOM, although rhinitis lasted longer and conjunctivitis was more severe in children with AOM. The clinical/otologic score (median: 4.0 vs 2.0; P = .000) and the AOM total-severity index (11.0 vs 6.0; P = .000), both including symptoms and tympanic-membrane examination, were higher in those with AOM. The AOM severity-of-symptom scale, based solely on symptoms, was equal in children with and without AOM (6.0 vs 6.0; P = .917).


AOM cannot be predicted by the occurrence, duration, or severity of symptoms at otitis-prone age. Likewise, solely symptom-based scores do not differentiate between respiratory tract infections with or without AOM. Thus, tympanic-membrane examination is crucial in the diagnosis and severity classification of AOM in clinical practice and research settings.


[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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