Disabling hearing impairment is the world's most common disability. Traditionally, hearing levels measured by pure tone audiometry have been used to define and quantify hearing loss. The effects of disabling hearing loss on patients' quality of life can be profound, and audiometric data alone may not correlate with quality of life measures. Generic measures of quality of life can be used to compare different diseases, and as such are useful in resource allocation and burden of disease studies. Their disadvantage is that they are not disease-specific and can therefore under-estimate the effects of a disease on patients' quality of life. Disease-specific measures are more sensitive. In chronic otitis media, additional factors such as discharge augment the effect of hearing loss alone on quality of life. Many of the quality of life measures developed for chronic otitis media have been used to assess improvement following reconstructive surgery. Quality of life measures have also been used to assess the effect of paediatric otitis media. Quality of life measures also have utility in the developing world, where hearing impairment is a huge burden.