OBJECTIVE To assess the quality of life of 384 Dutch children aged 1-7 years with recurrent acute otitis media (AOM), and compare it with that of children from four reference populations: (i) children from a general population; (ii) children with mild-to-moderate asthma, (iii) children with mild-to-moderately severe chronic illness, and (iv) US children with persistent or recurrent otitis media. DESIGN Survey. SETTING A general and an academic hospital (study population of children with recurrent AOM, n = 384); general population (n = 225 and 117); primary care (children with asthma, n = 64); community care (children with chronic illness, n = 82); and a general hospital (children with persistent or recurrent otitis media, n = 169). PARTICIPANTS A total of 384 children aged 1-7 years who had experienced at least two episodes of AOM in the preceding year and their caregivers. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Generic and disease-specific quality of life as judged by the children's caregivers. Age-adjusted total and subscale scores were compared with those of the reference populations. RESULTS For all generic questionnaires, children with recurrent AOM had poorer scores than children from the general population. Quality of life of children with four or more episodes of AOM in the preceding year was poorer than that of children with two to three episodes. Children with recurrent AOM scored lower on the health-related questionnaire than children with mild-to-moderately severe chronic illness. Quality of life of the present study population was similar to those of children with asthma and US children with chronic otitis media with effusion or recurrent AOM. CONCLUSION Recurrent AOM has a considerable negative impact on the quality of life of children and causes concern to their caregivers. These effects are proportional to the severity of the condition. Professionals involved in the care of children with OM should be aware that OM not only affects physical functioning but also general well-being of the child and its family. These outcomes should therefore be included in the evaluation of the child with otitis media both in the clinical and research setting.