BACKGROUND: Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) is often co-morbid with conductive hearing loss in early childhood due to a shared aetiology of adenotonsillar hypertrophy. Hearing loss is independently associated with impairment of executive function and behavioural difficulties. We hypothesised that these impairments in children with SDB may be mediated through hearing loss. METHODS: Fifty-eight children including 37 snorers awaiting adenotonsillectomy and 21 healthy non-snoring controls, aged 3-5 years, were assessed with pure tone audiometry, Strengths and Difficulties (SDQ), Behaviour Rating of Executive Function (BRIEF-P), and Childhood Middle Ear Disease and Hearing questionnaires. Polysomnography in snoring children generated an obstructive apnoea/hypopnea index (OAHI). Two regression models examined the effect of SDB and the mediating impact of hearing loss on BRIEF and SDQ. RESULTS: Snoring children had significantly poorer hearing, greater past exposure to hearing loss, and higher total SDQ and BRIEF-P scores than non-snoring controls. The first regression model, including all children, demonstrated that the impact of snoring on BRIEF_P, but not SDQ, was entirely mediated by a history of hearing loss exposure but not same-day audiometry. The second model examined snoring children only, categorising the group into 12 with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) (OAHI >/= 5) and 25 without OSA. OSA had a direct effect on SDQ scores, but this was not mediated by a history of hearing loss. CONCLUSION: In early childhood, conductive hearing loss mediates the relationship between SDB, irrespective of severity, and parent report of executive function but not behaviour. Treatment of hearing loss in pre-school SDB might improve executive function.