The results of a series of scanning electron microscopical studies were used to construct a model for the vascular pathways in the inner ear. Corrosion cast preparations of the vessels of the inner ear of the adult rat were used in this study. The inner ear is, like a hand, an end organ containing four sense organs (cochlea, saccule, utricle and the cristae ampullaris). All these specific inner ear structures have their own vascular supply. We have developed a blood flow diagram of the inner ear. This model was used for a classification of different types of ischemia in the inner ear and forms a concept for some forms of sensorineural hearing loss and vertigo. Four types of inner ear ischemia are proposed. In type I (a or b) of inner ear ischemia only the vessels of the cochlea are involved resulting in two types of hearing loss without vertigo. Type II is characterized by ischemia of a part of the cochlea and a part of the vestibular system. In type III (a or b) only the vestibular system is involved, while in type IV no blood circulation will be present in the inner ear resulting in total deafness and severe vertigo. Inner ear partition at ultramicroscopical level of these structures may be possible in the future and new imaging techniques will probably support the vascular schematic model presented in this study.

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