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OME is most frequent in early childhood with peaks in prevalence at 2 and 5 years

  • it accounts for 25-35% of all cases of otitis media (1)

  • by the age of 4 years, around 80% of children would have experienced otitis media with effusion (OME) at some point (1)

  • prevalence is bimodal
    • the first and largest peak is seen in children around 2 years of age with the prevalence around 20%
      • it frequently follows acute otitis media
    • second peak occurs at around the age of 5 with the prevalence being 16%
      • this coincides with an increase in upper respiratory tract infections resulting from closer association with other children at school (2)

  • it remains common up to the age of 7 years after which the prevalence declines to between 3% - 8% (3)

  • studies in the USA and other European countries have revealed that 50-80% of children aged 4 years have been affected by OME at some time in their life (1)

  • it is more common during the winter months (3)

In the UK it is the most common reason for referral for surgery in the children (1)

  • 1 in 200 children is operated on for the condition
  • ninety thousand operations are performed in England and Wales annually, at an estimated cost of 30 million

The number of OME patients seeking GP consultations increased from 15.2 per 1000 (2-10 year olds) per year to 16.7 per 1000 per year between 1991 and 2001 (1).

In adults middle ear effusions may occur infrequently after upper respiratory tract infection or after air travel (1).


Last reviewed 01/2018