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Effects of Negative Middle Ear Pressure on Wideband Acoustic Immittance in Normal-Hearing Adults

Robinson, Sarah R.; Thompson, Suzanne; Allen, Jont B.

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000280
Research Articles

Objectives: Wideband acoustic immittance (WAI) measurements are capable of quantifying middle ear performance over a wide range of frequencies relevant to human hearing. Static pressure in the middle ear cavity affects sound transmission to the cochlea, but few datasets exist to quantify the relationship between middle ear transmission and the static pressure. In this study, WAI measurements of normal ears are analyzed in both negative middle ear pressure (NMEP) and ambient middle ear pressure (AMEP) conditions, with a focus on the effects of NMEP in individual ears.

Design: Eight subjects with normal middle ear function were trained to induce consistent NMEPs, quantified by the tympanic peak pressure (TPP) and WAI. The effects of NMEP on the wideband power absorbance level are analyzed for individual ears. Complex (magnitude and phase) WAI quantities at the tympanic membrane (TM) are studied by removing the delay due to the residual ear canal (REC) volume between the probe tip and the TM. WAI results are then analyzed using a simplified classical model of the middle ear.

Results: For the 8 ears presented here, NMEP has the largest and most significant effect across ears from 0.8 to 1.9 kHz, resulting in reduced power absorbance by the middle ear and cochlea. On average, NMEP causes a decrease in the power absorbance level for low- to mid-frequencies, and a small increase above about 4 kHz. The effects of NMEP on WAI quantities, including the absorbance level and TM impedance, vary considerably across ears. The complex WAI at the TM and fitted model parameters show that NMEP causes a decrease in the aggregate compliance at the TM. Estimated REC delays show little to no dependence on NMEP.

Conclusions: In agreement with previous results, these data show that the power absorbance level is most sensitive to NMEP around 1 kHz. The REC effect is removed from WAI measurements, allowing for direct estimation of complex WAI at the TM. These estimates show NMEP effects consistent with an increased stiffness in the middle ear, which could originate from the TM, tensor tympani, annular ligament, or other middle ear structures. Model results quantify this nonlinear, stiffness-related change in a systematic way, that is not dependent on averaging WAI results in frequency bands. Given the variability of pressure effects, likely related to intersubject variability at AMEP, TPP is not a strong predictor of change in WAI at the TM. More data and modeling will be needed to better quantify the relationship between NMEP, WAI, and middle ear transmission.

Wideband acoustic immittance (WAI) was measured in eight normal-hearing subjects, with and without static negative middle ear pressure (NMEP). On average, NMEP causes a decrease in middle ear power absorbance for low- to mid-frequencies, and a small increase above about 4 kHz, with the largest change occurring near 1 kHz. Complex (magnitude and phase) WAI at the tympanic membrane (TM) is estimated and fit to a simple model, showing that NMEP reduces the aggregate middle ear compliance. NMEP level is a significant but imperfect predictor of WAI change at the TM, due to intersubject variability.

1University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA; and 2St. John’s University, Queens, New York, USA.

Received February 13, 2015; accepted December 31, 2015.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Address for correspondence: Sarah Robinson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2137 Beckman Institute MC 251, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA. E-mail: srrobin2@illinois.edu

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