The round window membrane (RWM) is permeable to certain biological substances. Those substances that can pass through the RWM have the potential to cause inner ear damage, leading to functional disturbances. The RWM is permeable to water, and the existence of osmotically active substances in the middle ear cavity can induce an alteration of inner ear fluid osmolality, leading to membrane displacement. However, several limiting factors exist that prevent free passage of substances from the middle ear to the inner ear. These include the morphological barrier of the three-layered RWM, the molecular weight of the substances, and the nature and concentration of substances in the middle ear cavity. The degree and duration of the inflammation in the middle ear cavity, as well as the morphological integrity of the RWM, also play an important role in controlling the passage of noxious substances into the inner ear. Further characterization of the factors involved in RWM permeability, and clarification of the mechanisms of the inner ear damages caused by substances passing into the inner ear through the RWM, are necessary for an understanding of the inner ear dysfunction caused by middle ear inflammation.