The incidence, prevalence, and natural history of otitis media with effusion (OME) and middle ear high negative pressure (HNP) were investigated in a group of 2 to 6 year old preschool children. The children were examined monthly over a two year period from September 1981 to August 1983. The middle ear status was assessed using a decision-tree algorithm which combined the findings of pneumatic otoscopy, tympanometry, and acoustic reflex measurements. Fifty-three percent of the children in the first year and 61% in the second year developed OME; also during the two years, HNP was documented in 66% of the children. Eighty percent of OME episodes lasted only two months. The prevalence of OME and HNP showed a seasonal variation and a strong association with the presence of upper respiratory infections (URIs). The incidence of OME was independent of age. These data indicate that OME and HNP are prevalent conditions with a high spontaneous recovery in the preschool population.