Background: The decision to seek medical advise for children during upper respiratory infections is largely based on the parental assumption that the child's symptoms are related to acute otitis media. The symptoms related to acute otitis media, however, are considered nonspecific.
Methods: Altogether 857 healthy day-care children (mean age, 3.7 years) were followed up for 3 months, and the symptoms of each child were compared during upper respiratory infections with and without acute otitis media.
Results: A total of 138 children had upper respiratory infections with and without acute otitis media. The symptom with the strongest association with acute otitis media was earache [relative risk (RR), 21.3; 95% confidence intervals (CI), 7.0 to 106, P < 0.0001] but sore throat (RR = 3.2; CI = 1.1 to 11; P = 0.027), night restlessness (RR = 2.6; CI = 1.1 to 6.9; P = 0.024) and fever (RR = 1.8; CI = 1.1 to 3.2; P = 0.025) also had significant associations. Logistic regression analysis showed 71% of the cases to be correctly diagnosed on the basis of the symptoms of earache and night restlessness. The parents were able to predict the presence of acute otitis media with a sensitivity and specificity of 71 and 80%, respectively (positive predictive value, 51%; negative predictive value, 90%).
Conclusions: Despite the limited value of symptoms in differentiating acute otitis media from upper respiratory infection, the parents are able to predict acute otitis media somewhat reliably. More symptoms than have been reported earlier appeared to be associated with acute otitis media.