All the aminoglycoside antibiotics now in clinical use are ototoxic. This study was designed to compare the toxic effects of four aminoglycoside antibiotics, streptomycin, gentamicin, amikacin and netilmicin, administered to guinea-pigs systemically (at respective doses of 125 mg/kg, 50 mg/kg, 150 mg/kg or 37.5 mg/kg, twice daily for 1 week) or topically via the transtympanic route (0.25 ml/kg in 4% saline, twice daily for 1 week). Chosen doses were 10-20 times higher than the recommended human dosage. Cochlear damage was observed in all animals that were given systemic and local aminoglycosides. The severity of the cochlear damage was in the order gentamicin, amikacin, streptomycin, netilmicin, with gentamicin being the most toxic. No statistically significant difference between the severity of cochlear damage resulting from the systemic and topical applications was detected.