How Do Parents of Preverbal Children With Acute Otitis Media Determine How Much Ear Pain Their Child Is Having?


      The objective of this study was to determine how parents of preverbal children determine whether their child is having otalgia. We constructed 8 cases describing a 1-year-old child with acute otitis media (AOM) using various combinations of the following 6 observable symptoms: fussiness, ear tugging, eating less, fever, sleeping difficulty, and playing less. Parents of children with a history of AOM presenting for well or sick appointments to an ambulatory clinic were asked to assign a pain level to each case on a visual analog scale. Sixty-nine parents participated in the study. Each of the 6 behaviors was associated with increased pain levels (P < .0001). Ear tugging and fussiness had the highest impact on the assigned pain levels. Higher level of parental education and private insurance were associated with higher reported pain levels (P = .007 and P = .001, respectively). Because interpretation of symptoms appears to be influenced by socioeconomic status, we question the utility of using an overall pain score from a 1-item parent scale as an outcome measure in clinical trials that include preverbal children.


      Parents of preverbal children with acute otitis media use observable behaviors to determine their child's pain level. Interpretation of symptoms, however, appears to be influenced by socioeconomic status. Thus, we question the utility of using a 1-item parental pain scale in clinical trials that include preverbal children.

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