We conducted an epidemiological, observational cohort study to determine the incidence and complications of acute otitis media (AOM) in children aged <6 years. Data on physician-diagnosed AOM were collected from retrospective review of medical charts for the year preceding enrolment and then prospectively in the year following enrolment. The study included 5776 children in Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. AOM incidence was 256/1000 person-years [95% confidence interval (CI) 243–270] in the prospective study period. Incidence was lowest in Italy (195, 95% CI 171–222) and highest in Spain (328, 95% CI 296–363). Complications were documented in <1% of episodes. Spontaneous tympanic membrane perforation was documented in 7% of episodes. Both retrospective and prospective study results were similar and show the high incidence during childhood in these five European countries. Differences by country may reflect true differences and differences in social structure and diagnostic procedures.