The misery that children's ear infections inflict on their parents has been spelled out in a global survey that included 250 New Zealand families.

In the survey of 2867 caregivers in 12 countries, at least three-quarters of parents said that during their child's ear infections, sleepless nights placed a significant strain on them.

"[It] showed that pain, disturbed sleep and irritability were considered to be a significant burden on children with the infection," said one of the researchers, children's ear nose and throat surgeon Dr Colin Barber, of Auckland's Starship hospital.

"This survey also shows that acute otitis media [middle ear infection] affects the whole family due to sleepless nights and worry, or disruption to working lives and potential loss of income."


Dr Barber presented the findings of the research, sponsored by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, to a meeting of the European Society of Paediatric Otorhinolaryngology in the Netherlands at the weekend.

"This study has been a reminder that ear infections place a significant burden on New Zealand children and their families and also on the resources of the healthcare system," Dr Barber said.

"Many parents' concerns were held in common internationally, with eight out of 10 New Zealand parents considering acute middle ear infection to be a significant burden on their child."

"The good news is that ... we are anticipating that the number of GP consultations for ear infections will come down as the number of New Zealand children who are immunised increases."

It was also expected that vaccination would lead to a reduction in the complications of ear infections suffered by some children, such as impaired hearing and delayed speech development, Dr Barber said.

The Government in 2008 introduced vaccination against pneumococcal bacteria which can cause illnesses including pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections.

The current main vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline's Synflorix, introduced last year, covers up to 80 per cent of the bacteria that can cause ear infections.

Dr Nikki Turner, director of Auckland University's Immunisation Advisory Centre, said vaccination against pneumococcal disease might reduce the rate of ear infections by 20 per cent.

"Even a small effect with ear infections is likely to have a big effect because a lot of kids get ear infections. And the other thing is, these vaccines are more likely to have more effect on severe ear infections because pneumococcal seems to be implicated in severe ear infections, so like kids who end up having grommets - ear tubes - and kids that have recurrent, nasty ear infections, we are hoping this vaccine will have a really good effect for them."

She said there had already been reductions in rates of pneumococcal-caused meningitis and pneumonia.

Acute middle ear infection:
* Caused mainly by viral and bacterial nose and throat infections
* Can be extremely painful and distressing
* Affect 80 per cent of children under 3 at least once
* Sometimes treated with antibiotics
* Childhood vaccination expected to reduce incidence