Ototoxicity is, quite simply, ear poisoning, which results from exposure to drugs or chemicals that damage the inner ear or the vestibulo-cochlear nerve. Because the inner ear is involved in both hearing and balance, ototoxicity can result in disturbances of either or both of these senses. The parts of the brain that receive hearing and balance information from the inner ear can also be affected by poison, but this is not technically considered ototoxicity and won’t be covered in this information sheet.
The occurrence and degree of inner ear poisoning depends upon the drug involved as well as other factors such as heredity. Ototoxicity can be temporary or permanent. The effect of certain drugs is often temporary, while other drugs typically produce permanent changes to the ear. Some drugs can cause either temporary or permanent problems. It is important to note here that the broad majority of people who experience ototoxicity have a temporary or reversible form that does not result in a major or long-term disruption in their lives. With cochleotoxicity, hearing loss or the start or worsening of tinnitus can occur through damage to the cochlea or the cochlear branch of the vestibulo-cochlear nerve. Vestibular ototoxicity or vestibulotoxicity are terms used to describe ototoxicity that affects the balance organs or the vestibular branch of the vestibulo-cochlear nerve.