Radiotherapy-induced ear toxicity

Barbara A. Jereczek-Fossa, Andrzej Zarowski, Franco Milani, Roberto Orecchia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite their particular functional consequences, radiotherapy-induced ear injuries remain under-evaluated and under-reported. These reactions may have acute or late character, may affect all structures of the hearing organ, and result in conductive, sensorineural or mixed hearing loss. Up to 40% of patients have acute middle ear side effects during radical irradiation including acoustic structures and about one-third of patients develop late sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Total radiotherapy dose and tumour site seem to be among the most important factors associated with the risk of hearing impairment. Thus, reduction in radiation dose to the auditory structures should be attempted whenever possible. New radiotherapy techniques (3-dimensional conformal irradiation, intensity modulated radiotherapy, proton therapy) allow better dose distribution with lower dose to the non-target organs. Treatment of acute and late external otitis is mainly conservative and includes the anti-inflammatory agents (applied topically and systematically). Post-radiation chronic otitis media and the eustachian tube pathology may be managed with tympanic membrane incision with insertion of a tympanostomy tube (grommet), although the benefit of such approach is controversial and some authors advocate a more conservative approach. In these patients the functional deficit can be alleviated by application of bone conduction hearing aids such as, e.g., the bone anchored hearing aid (BAHA). There is no standard therapy for post-irradiation sudden or progressive SNHL yet corticosteroid therapy, rheologic medications, hyperbaric oxygen or carbogen therapy are usually employed (as for idiopathic SNHL), although controversial data on the efficacy of these treatment modalities have been published. In selected cases with bilateral profound hearing loss or total deafness, cochlear implants may prove effective. Further improvements in radiotherapy techniques and progress in otologic diagnostics and therapy may allow better prevention and management of radiation-related acoustic injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-430
Number of pages14
JournalCancer Treatment Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


  • Cochlear implant
  • Eustachian tube
  • External
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Hearing loss
  • Inner ear
  • Middle
  • Otitis
  • Radiation damage
  • Radiotherapy
  • Stereotactic irradiation
  • Temporal bone
  • Toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Urology


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