Abstract This paper reports on a comparative study on the structural and thermoluminescence (TL) modifications of Y2O3:Tb3+ phosphor induced by 150MeV Ni7+, 120MeV Ag9+ and 110MeV Au8+ swift heavy ions in the fluence range 1×1011–1×1013ions/cm2. SRIM calculations were performed in order to correlate the change in TL properties of various ions irradiated phosphors. It shows that the 110MeV Au8+ions created a high concentration of defects. X-ray diffraction, transmission electron microscopy and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopic studies confirm the loss of crystallinity of the phosphors after ions irradiation, which is high in the case of the Au8+ ion irradiation. Structural refinement by Rietveld method yields the various structural parameters of the ion irradiated phosphors. TL glow curves of the ion irradiated phosphors show a small shift in the position of the peaks along with an increase in intensity with the increase in ions fluence. Trapping parameters of the ions irradiated phosphors were calculated from the TL data using various glow curve analysis methods. The results can be correlated on the basis of the linear energy transfer of the irradiated ions. These obtained results can be used successfully in heavy ions dosimetry for space craft and air crew.