Background: Of 22 million visits annually to United States physicians for acute otitis media, almost 4 million are by patients 15 years old or older. Yet the clinical spectrum and variables related to recovery have not been reported for adults.
Method: Data originated from 3224 primary care patients with acute otitis media, of whom 500 were 15 years old or older, who were enrolled in a prospective study in eight countries. At the initial visit, history, symptoms, physical findings, and treatment were recorded. At a 2-month follow-up visit, changes in treatment and recovery were recorded.
Results: Compared with children, adults sought care more quickly after symptom onset; were more likely to have had a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy; and were more likely to complain of ear pain, decreased hearing, sore throat, and ear discharge. Children were more likely to have a history of recent upper respiratory tract infection, serous otitis media, and ear tubes; symptoms of fever, diarrhea, and vomiting; and tympanic membrane findings of redness, bulging, and ear tubes in place. History of reduced hearing, allergy, prophylactic antibiotics, and tympanic membrane findings characterized as opaque or dull, fluid, draining pus, perforation, and not visualized were equally frequent in both age groups. For adults, neither type nor duration of antibiotic affected outcome. Patients receiving antibiotics had lower rates of recovery than those who did not. The likelihood of a poor outcome increased with an increasing number of past episodes of acute otitis media and with increasing age.
Conclusion: Although history and symptoms differ in adults and children, the similarity of tympanic membrane findings is consistent with previous reports of a similar bacterial spectrum in both groups. Recovery is related more to individual patient characteristics and history than to antibiotic therapy. Adults have an increased rate of poor outcome at 2 months compared with children.