Otitis Media: Rapid Evidence Review

Am Fam Physician. 2019 Sep 15;100(6):350-356.


Acute otitis media (AOM) is the most common diagnosis in childhood acute sick visits. By three years of age, 50% to 85% of children will have at least one episode of AOM. Symptoms may include ear pain (rubbing, tugging, or holding the ear may be a sign of pain), fever, irritability, otorrhea, anorexia, and sometimes vomiting or lethargy. AOM is diagnosed in symptomatic children with moderate to severe bulging of the tympanic membrane or new-onset otorrhea not caused by acute otitis externa, and in children with mild bulging and either recent-onset ear pain (less than 48 hours) or intense erythema of the tympanic membrane. Treatment includes pain management plus observation or antibiotics, depending on the patient's age, severity of symptoms, and whether the AOM is unilateral or bilateral. When antibiotics are used, high-dose amoxicillin (80 to 90 mg per kg per day in two divided doses) is first-line therapy unless the patient has taken amoxicillin for AOM in the previous 30 days or has concomitant purulent conjunctivitis; amoxicillin/clavulanate is typically used in this case. Cefdinir or azithromycin should be the first-line antibiotic in those with penicillin allergy based on risk of cephalosporin allergy. Tympanostomy tubes should be considered in children with three or more episodes of AOM within six months or four episodes within one year with one episode in the preceding six months. Pneumococcal and influenza vaccines and exclusive breastfeeding until at least six months of age can reduce the risk of AOM.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / therapy
  • Adult
  • Amoxicillin / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Family Practice / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Ear Ventilation / methods
  • Otitis Media / diagnosis
  • Otitis Media / prevention & control
  • Otitis Media / therapy*
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Amoxicillin