OBJECTIVE The objective of this study was to assess whether the use of the erbium: yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Er:YAG) laser has negative effects on inner ear function and to compare the short- and long-term hearing outcome of patients undergoing conventional stapedotomy versus laser stapedotomy. STUDY DESIGN Retrospective review of prospectively collected audiometric data of patients with otosclerosis operated on by one experienced surgeon. SETTING Academic tertiary referral center. PATIENTS A total of 266 stapes surgeries were evaluated for intraoperative findings, of which 209 patients were evaluated for preoperative and postoperative hearing thresholds after a 6- to 452-week (mean, 22 wk) audiological follow-up. INTERVENTION One hundred fifteen (43%) of the operations were performed conventionally, using manual perforators for stapedotomy (Group A); in 115 (43%) surgeries, the perforators were used in combination with the Er:YAG laser (Group B), and in 36 (14%) operations, the Er:YAG was used exclusively for footplate perforation (Group C). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Pure-tone audiometry was performed before surgery, 2 days postoperatively (bone conduction only) and at 5, 26, and 57 weeks postoperatively. RESULTS A postoperative temporary threshold shift of the bone conduction could be found in all groups. In Group C, where the laser was used exclusively for footplate perforation, this threshold shift was not only the most significant, but also-in contrast to the other groups-not totally reversible. In all techniques, a satisfactory air-bone gap closure could be achieved. The best long-term results (96% of the patients had <or=20 dB air-bone gap after 57 wk) could be found in Group B. CONCLUSION If certain rules to minimize inner ear trauma are followed, the Er:YAG laser is a safe tool in middle ear surgery. Combining both the laser and the conventional technique, instead of the separate use of either technique, leads to superior postoperative hearing results.