We conducted a population-based descriptive study of medical visits and surgical interventions for otitis media among 3- and 7-year-old children from the Montreal, Canada, area over the period 1981 to 1983. The number of children seen annually for otitis media increased over that time. An increase in the event rate of otitis was observed; there was also an increase in the rate of myringotomy with ventilatory tube insertion. The rate of surgery reached a level, among 3-year-old children in particular (25.0 per 1000 cases of otitis among boys, 23.9 per 1000 cases of otitis among girls), that some authors have termed "epidemic." Comparison of the trends in the rates of surgical interventions and the rates of medical consultations for otitis suggest that most of this so-called surgical epidemic for middle ear effusion is related to a higher frequency of the underlying condition and not to more aggressive patterns of therapy during the years studied.