Does this child have acute otitis media?

Journal Article (Journal Article;Review)

CONTEXT: Acute otitis media (AOM) is one of the most common problems in pediatrics. An accurate diagnosis of AOM can guide proper treatment and follow-up. OBJECTIVE: To systematically review the literature regarding precision and accuracy of history taking and physical examination in diagnosing AOM in children. DATA SOURCES: We searched MEDLINE for English-language articles published from 1966 through May 2002. Bibliographies of retrieved articles and textbooks were also searched. STUDY SELECTION: We located studies with original data on the precision or accuracy of history or physical examination for AOM in children. Of 397 references initially identified, 6 met inclusion criteria for analysis. DATA EXTRACTION: Two authors independently reviewed and abstracted data to calculate likelihood ratios (LRs) for symptoms and signs. DATA SYNTHESIS: Four studies of symptoms used clinical diagnosis as the criterion standard and were limited by incorporation bias. Ear pain is the most useful symptom (positive LRs, 3.0-7.3); fever, upper respiratory tract symptoms, and irritability are less useful. One study of clinical signs used tympanocentesis as the criterion standard, and we adjusted the results to correct for verification bias. A cloudy (adjusted LR, 34; 95% confidence interval [CI], 28-42), bulging (adjusted LR, 51; 95% CI, 36-73), or distinctly immobile (adjusted LR, 31; 95% CI, 26-37) tympanic membrane on pneumatic otoscopy are the most useful signs for detecting AOM. A distinctly red tympanic membrane is also helpful (adjusted LR, 8.4; 95% CI, 6.7-11) whereas a normal color makes AOM much less likely (adjusted LR, 0.2; 95% CI, 0.19-0.21). CONCLUSIONS: Although many of the studies included in this analysis are limited by bias, a cloudy, bulging, or clearly immobile tympanic membrane is most helpful for detecting AOM. The degree of erythema may also be useful since a normal color makes otitis media unlikely whereas a distinctly red tympanic membrane increases the likelihood significantly.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rothman, R; Owens, T; Simel, DL

Published Date

  • September 24, 2003

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 290 / 12

Start / End Page

  • 1633 - 1640

PubMed ID

  • 14506123

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1538-3598

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1001/jama.290.12.1633


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States