A prospective study of the effect of radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma on hearing was carried out on 49 patients who had pure tone, impedance audiometry and auditory brain stem evoked response (ABR) recordings before, immediately, three, six and 12 months after radiotherapy. Fourteen patients complained of intermittent tinnitus after radiotherapy. We found that 11 initially normal ears of nine patients developed a middle ear effusion, three to six months after radiotherapy. There was mixed sensorineural and conductive hearing impairment after radiotherapy. Persistent impairment of ABR was detected immediately after completion of radiotherapy. The waves I-III and I-V interpeak latency intervals were significantly prolonged one year after radiotherapy. The study shows that radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma impairs hearing by acting on the middle ear, the cochlea and the brain stem auditory pathway.