To learn whether chronic otitis media with effusion during early life has lasting otologic, audiologic, or developmental consequences, we evaluated 24 closely matched pairs of children with repaired palatal clefts whose treatment had been equivalent except with regard to persistent otitis media during early life. One group had undergone early (mean age, 3.0 months) myringotomy with placement of tympanostomy tubes, followed by assiduous monitoring and an aggressive treatment program to maintain ventilation in the middle ear. The other group had undergone initial myringotomy later (mean age, 30.8 months) or not at all (two subjects) and presumably had had continuous middle-ear effusion throughout most or all of the first few years of life. Eardrum scarring was equal in both groups. Hearing acuity and consonant articulation were impaired in both groups, but hearing acuity was less impaired (P = 0.05 to 0.10) and consonant articulation significantly less impaired (P = 0.03) in the group undergoing early myringotomy. Mean verbal, performance, and full-scale IQs and scores on psychosocial indexes were normal in both groups and did not differ significantly between the groups. These findings support the hypothesis that early, longstanding otitis media may result in impairment of hearing and of speech, but they do not support the hypothesis that cognitive, language, and psychosocial development are adversely affected.