Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Hospitalisation with otitis media in early childhood and cognitive function in young adult life: a prevalence study among Danish conscripts

Marie Mortensen1*, Rikke Beck Nielsen1, Niels Fisker2 and Mette Nørgaard1

  • * Corresponding author: Marie Mortensen

  • † Equal contributors

Author affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Aarhus University Hospital, Olof Palmes Allé 43-45, 8200, Aarhus N, Denmark

2 H.C. Andersen Children’s Hospital, Odense University Hospital, Sdr. Boulevard 29, 5000, Odense C, Denmark

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:8  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-8

Published: 15 January 2013



Otitis media (OM) is a very common condition in children and occurs during years that are critical to the development of learning, literacy, and math skills. Therefore, among a large cohort of Danish conscripts, we aimed to examine the association between hospitalisation with OM in early childhood and cognitive function and educational level in early adulthood.


We conducted a population-based prevalence study using linked data from healthcare databases and conscription records of Danish men born between 1977 and 1983. We identified all hospitalisations with OM before 8 years of age. Cognitive function was measured by the Boerge Prien validated group intelligence test (Danish Børge Prien Prøve, BPP). We adjusted for potential confounders with and without stratification by hearing impairment. Furthermore, we examined the association between hospitalisation with OM and the prevalence of having achieved a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), stratified by quartiles of BPP scores.


Of the 18 412 eligible conscripts aged 18–25 years, 1000 (5.5%) had been hospitalised with OM before age 8. Compared with conscripts without such a record, the adjusted prevalence ratio (PR) for a BPP score in the bottom quartile was 1.20 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.09–1.33). There was no major difference in the proportion of men with a GCSE and those without among those hospitalised with OM in early childhood. For men in the bottom and upper quartiles of BPP scores, the PRs for early childhood hospitalisation with OM were 0.89 (95% CI: 0.59–1.33) and 0.96 (95% CI, 0.88–1.05), respectively. Among men with severe hearing impairment, the proportion with a BPP score in the bottom quartile did not differ between those with and without an OM hospitalisation [PR = 1.01 (95% CI: 0.781.34)].


Overall, we found that hospitalisation with OM in early childhood was associated with a slightly lower cognitive function in early adulthood. Hospitalisation for OM did not seem to influence the prevalence of GSCE when level of BPP was taken into account.

Otitis media; Cognitive function; Educational level; Hearing impairment