Background: Acute otitis media (AOM) often occurs as a complication of upper respiratory tract infection (URI).
Objective: To describe otoscopic findings during URI, the full clinical spectrum of AOM, and outcome of cases managed with watchful waiting.
Methods: In a prospective study of 294 healthy children (6 months–3 years), characteristics of AOM complicating URI were studied. Otoscopic findings were categorized by tympanic membrane (TM) position, color, translucency, and mobility. Otoscopic score was assigned based on McCormick otoscopy scale (OS)-8 scale.
Results: During days 1 to 7 of URI, otoscopic findings at 1114 visits were consistent with AOM in 22%; myringitis (inflamed TM, no fluid) was diagnosed in 7%. In AOM episodes diagnosed within 28 days of URI onset, TM position was described as: nonbulging (19%), mild bulging (45%), bulging (29%), and TM perforation occurred in (6%). OS-8 scale showed mild TM inflammation (OS, 2–3) in 6%, moderate (OS, 4–5) in 59%, and severe (OS, 6–8) in 35%. In 54% of 126 bilateral AOM episodes, inflammation of both TMs was at different stages. Of 28 cases of nonsevere AOM managed with watchful waiting, 4 progressed and 3 later required an antibiotic.
Conclusions: AOM is a spectrum of infection that may present at various stages, even in the same child with bilateral disease. During URI, otoscopic changes are observed from the first day of onset. Understanding the wide clinical spectrum of AOM is needed to help with future clinical trial design and development of a scoring system to establish treatment criteria that will minimize antibiotic use.