Reactive oxygen species have been invoked as a causative agent of cell death in many different developmental and pathological states. The presence of free radicals and their importance of hair cell death due to aminoglycosides is suggested by a number of studies that have demonstrated a protective effect of antioxidants. By using dichlorofluorescin (DCFH) a fluorescent compound that is a reporter of reactive oxygen species, we have shown that free radicals are rapidly produced by avian hair cells in vitro after exposure to gentamicin. In addition, free radical scavengers, catalase and glutathione, were tested with DCFH fluorescent imaging for their ability to quench the production of reactive oxygen species in hair cells after drug exposure. Both free radical scavengers were very effective in suppressing drug-induced production of free radicals. Next, we investigated the ability of these antioxidants to preserve the structural integrity of hair cells after exposure to gentamicin. We were not able to detect any attenuation of the hair cell loss using antioxidants in conjunction with gentamicin. This result must be qualified by the fact that the antioxidants used were not effective over long-term gentamicin exposure. Therefore, methodological constraints prevented adequately testing possible protective effects of the free radical scavengers in this model system.