Multiple auditory steady-state responses (ASSRs) probably will be incorporated into the diagnostic test battery for estimating hearing thresholds in young infants in the near future. Limiting this, however, is the fact that there are no published bone-conduction ASSR threshold data for infants with normal or impaired hearing. The objective of this study was to investigate bone-conduction ASSR thresholds in infants from a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and in young infants with normal hearing and to compare these with adult ASSR thresholds.
ASSR thresholds to multiple bone-conduction stimuli (carrier frequencies: 500 to 4000 Hz; 77 to 101-Hz modulation rates; amplitude/frequency modulated; single-polarity stimulus) were obtained in two infant groups [N = 29 preterm (32 to 43 wk PCA), tested in NICU; N = 14 postterm (0 to 8 mo), tested in sound booth]. All infants had passed a hearing screening test. ASSR thresholds, amplitudes, and phase delays for preterm and postterm infants were compared with previously collected adult data.
Mean (±1 SD) ASSR thresholds were 16 (11), 16 (10), 37 (10), and 33 (13) dB HL for the preterm infants and 14 (13), 2 (7), 26 (6), and 22 (8) dB HL for the postterm infants at 500, 1000, 2000, and 4000 Hz, respectively. Both infant groups had significantly better thresholds for 500 and 1000 Hz compared with 2000 and 4000 Hz, in contrast to adults who have similar thresholds across frequency (22, 26, 18, and 18 dB HL). When 500- and 1000-Hz thresholds were pooled, pre- and postterm infants had better low-frequency thresholds than adults. When 2000- and 4000-Hz thresholds were pooled, pre- and postterm infants had poorer thresholds than adults. ASSR amplitudes were significantly larger for low frequencies compared with high frequencies for both infant groups, in contrast to adults, who show little difference across frequency. ASSR phase delays were later for lower frequencies compared with higher frequencies for infants and adults, except for 500 Hz in the preterm group. ASSR phase delays were later for infants compared with adults across frequency.
Infant bone-conduction ASSR thresholds are very different from those of adults. Overall, these results indicate that low-frequency bone-conduction thresholds worsen and high-frequency bone-conduction thresholds improve with maturation. Bone-conduction ASSR threshold differences between the postterm infants and adults probably are due to skull maturation. Differences between preterm and older infants may be explained both by skull changes and a masking effect of high ambient noise levels in the NICU (and possibly to other issues due to prematurity).