Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is in hospital receiving treatment for an eye problem, legal sources have said.

The 76-year-old billionaire had to cancel an appearance at a rally last month ahead of Italy's inconclusive elections and a subsequent television interview because of the eye problem.

His lawyers have said the problem constitutes a legitimate impediment to his appearance in court.

It could potentially delay a trial this month in which he faces charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

A hearing is expected today with the verdict expected on 18 March.