To follow the development of tone-burst auditory brainstem response (TB-ABR) and auditory steady-state response (ASSR) thresholds in a group of normal babies through the first 6 wk of life.
This longitudinal study involved assessment at four data-collection points. TB-ABR and ASSR thresholds to 500-Hz and 4-kHz stimuli were established in 17 full-term subjects at 0, 2, 4, and 6 wk of age. Stimulus-modulation rates for ASSR assessment were 74 Hz (for 500-Hz tones) and 95 Hz (for 4-kHz tones). TB-ABR responses were recorded to stimuli presented at 39.1 Hz.
Mean ASSR thresholds (calibrated in dBHL) at 500 Hz ranged from 44.4 to 39.7 dB HL across the recording period, and at 4 kHz they ranged from 37.9 to 32.1 dB HL. TB-ABR thresholds (calibrated in dBnHL) were significantly lower, ranging from 36.8 to 36.2 dB nHL at 500 Hz and from 16.5 to 15.9 dB nHL at 4 kHz. However, when the stimuli used for each test were calibrated in the same units (peak equivalent dB SPL), the results were similar. That is, the differences between the two techniques were only an artifact of the calibration. ASSR thresholds were more variable than TB-ABR, particularly at the neonatal measurement point. Within-subject changes across the test period were observed for ASSR thresholds but not for TB-ABR.
The longitudinal findings presented in this study suggest that for normal neonates, the TB-ABR technique may offer a more reliable basis for prediction of hearing levels than ASSR assessment. This is not because TB-ABR thresholds (calibrated in dBnHL) are lower, but because the response is less affected by maturational development in the first weeks of life and is less variable across subjects.