Parent-reported symptoms of acute otitis media during the first year of life: what is beneath the surface?

Alexandre C. Fortanier, Roderick P Venekamp, Marieke L A de Hoog, Cuno S P M Uiterwaal, Anne C van der Gugten, Cornelis K van der Ent, Arno W Hoes, Anne G M Schilder

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BACKGROUND: Most estimates of the incidence of acute otitis media (AOM) are based on general practitioner (GP) or pediatrician diagnoses. It is likely that these figures underestimate the community incidence of AOM since parents do not visit their doctor every time their child suffers from acute ear symptoms. The impact of these symptom episodes may be substantial since they affect the child's quality of life and parents' productivity.

METHODS: To determine AOM symptoms in the community, we measured parent-reported AOM symptoms daily for 12 consecutive months in 1,260 children participating in a prospective birth cohort in the Netherlands. The mean age of these children was at study enrollment 0.9 months (standard deviation 0.6). A parent-reported AOM symptom episode was defined as fever (temperature 38˚C or above) plus at least one of the following symptoms: ear pain and ear discharge. These febrile AOM symptom episodes were linked to GP-consultations and diagnoses in the GP electronic health records.

RESULTS: With an estimated 624 parent-reported symptom episodes per 1,000 child-years (95% CI: 577 to 674) incidence of febrile AOM symptoms during the child's first year is high. The GP was consulted in half of these symptom episodes and AOM was diagnosed in 49% of these consultations.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The incidence of febrile AOM symptoms in the first year of life is high in Dutch children and leads to a GP-consultation in only half of the cases. This suggests that AOM symptomatology in the community is underestimated when focusing on GP-diagnosed AOM episodes alone, since a considerable proportion of febrile AOM symptom episodes are treated symptomatically by parents at home and do not come to the attention of the GP. Having data on community AOM symptomatology available for each country is important when the potential impact of preventive and therapeutic interventions for AOM are studied.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0121572
Number of pages8
JournalPLoS ONE [E]
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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