Reduced cochlear blood flow (CBF) has been implicated in various pathologies of the inner ear, including sudden deafness, noise-induced hearing loss and Meniere's disease. Thus the aim of some current therapeutic regimens to treat these conditions is to increase CBF and thereby improve oxygenation of the inner ear tissues. Most of the vasodilating agents in clinical use, however, do not have specific experimental evidence to support their effects on CBF. The hypotension which can follow systemic administration may limit their local effectiveness and general utility, just as it complicates the interpretation of the data in animal experiments. In the current study we investigated the effect of six agents, known for their systemic cardiovascular actions, on CBF: hydralazine, sodium nitroprusside, papaverine, nicotinic acid, verapamil and histamine. The effect of these drugs was studied after topical applications on the round window membrane (RWM) and systemic intravenous administrations. CBF was monitored with a laser Doppler flowmeter (LDF). Topical administration of sodium nitroprusside was the most effective in increasing CBF, followed, in order, by hydralazine and histamine. No change in CBF was observed for papaverine, verapamil or nicotinic acid. Systemic administrations of all the agents caused a marked decrease in blood pressure and variable effects on CBF. We discuss the CBF changes in relation to the different pharmacological mechanisms of action of each drug. The study demonstrates the effectiveness of topical application of vasodilating agents in increasing CBF.