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Background: National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance to treat otitis media in older children immediately with antibiotics only if they have ear discharge is based on limited evidence. Aim: To determine the clinical significance and outcome of ear discharge in children with acute otitis media, in routine clinical practice. Design of study: Observational cohort study of children with acute otitis media comparing those with and without ear discharge at presentation. Setting: Primary care in East Somerset. Method: Two hundred and fifty-six children aged 6 months to 10 years were recruited from primary care. Clinical features and other characteristics were recorded at presentation. Follow-up was undertaken at 2 weeks and 3 months. Results: Children with otitis media who present with ear discharge are much more likely to be treated with antibiotics irrespective of age (adjusted odds ratio 15, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 3 to 66). Most with discharge have proven bacterial Infection (58%, 95% CI = 42 to 72%). They have a more severe systemic illness, with higher axillary temperature (80% increase in odds of ear discharge for each additional degree centigrade, P = 0.02), pulse rate (9% increase in odds for each extra beat, P<0.001), and Yale score (mean 10.5 versus 9.0, P = 0.003). They may also have an increased likelihood of adverse outcome (adjusted odds ratio of pain at 1 week 2.9; further episodes of acute otitis media 3.3; hearing difficulty at 3 months 4.7; all P <0.10). Conclusion: Ear discharge defines a group of children with otitis media who are sicker and may be at higher risk of adverse outcome. NICE guidance to treat them with antibiotics is supported. ©British Journal of General Practice 2010.

Original publication




Journal article


British Journal of General Practice

Publication Date





101 - 105