We describe the methodology and rationale behind the delivery of therapeutic medicines to the inner ear. The inner ear has long been impervious to pharmacologic manipulation. This is most likely the result of a protective mechanism called the blood-labyrinth barrier, whose function closely resembles that of the blood-brain barrier. This protective barrier impedes the clinician's ability to treat inner ear diseases with systemically administered medications. Since 1935, otolaryngologists have attempted to manipulate the inner ear with transtympanically injected medicines. Success has varied widely, but medicinal ablation of vestibular function can be achieved in this manner. Unfortunately, the auditory system is also at great risk from any medicine that is delivered to the inner ear via the middle ear. Over the past 10 years, significant improvements in drug delivery have allowed for more "titratable" treatment, which has reduced (but not eliminated) the risk of permanent hearing loss. In this article, we discuss both novel and time-tested methods of delivering medicines to the inner ear. We also review the classes of medications that alter inner ear function and the attendant risks of such treatments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas