AIM: To protect hearing in an experimental model of cochlear implantation by the application of dexamethasone to the round window prior to surgery. The present study examined the dosage and timing relationships required to optimise the hearing protection. METHODS: Dexamethasone or saline (control) was absorbed into a pledget of the carboxymethylcellulose and hyaluronic acid and applied to the round window of the guinea pig prior to cochlear implantation. The treatment groups were 2% w/v dexamethasone for 30, 60 and 120min; 20% dexamethasone applied for 30min. Auditory sensitivity was determined pre-operatively, and at 1 week after surgery, with pure-tone auditory brainstem response audiometry (2-32kHz). Cochlear implantation was performed via a cochleostomy drilled into the basal turn of the cochlea, into which a miniature cochlear implant dummy electrode was inserted using soft-surgery techniques. RESULTS: ABR thresholds were elevated after cochlear implantation, maximally at 32kHz and to a lesser extent at lower frequencies. Thresholds were less elevated after dexamethasone treatment, and the hearing protection improved when 2% dexamethasone was applied to the round window for longer periods of time prior to implantation. The time that dexamethasone need be applied to achieve hearing protection could be reduced by increasing the concentration of steroid, with a 20% application for 30min achieving similar levels of protection to a 60min application of 2% dexamethasone. CONCLUSIONS: Hearing protection is improved by increasing the time that dexamethasone is applied to the round window prior to cochlear implantation, and the waiting time can be reduced by increasing the steroid concentration. These results suggest that the diffusion dexamethasone through the cochlea is the prime determinant of the extent of hearing protection.