Impact of infrasound on the human cochlea

Hear Res. 2007 Nov;233(1-2):67-76. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2007.07.004. Epub 2007 Jul 29.


Low-frequency tones were reported to modulate the amplitude of distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) indicating periodic changes of the operating point of the cochlear amplifier. The present study investigates potential differences between infrasound and low-frequency sounds in their ability to modulate human DPOAEs. DPOAEs were recorded in 12 normally hearing subjects in the presence of a biasing tone with f(B)=6Hz and a level L(B)=130dB SPL. Primary frequencies were fixed at f(1)=1.6 and f(2)=2.0kHz with fixed levels L(1)=51 and L(2)=30dB SPL. A new measure, the modulation index (MI), was devised to characterise the degree of DPOAE modulation. In subsequent measurements with biasing tones of f(B) = 12, 24 and 50Hz, L(B) was adjusted to maintain the MI as obtained individually at 6Hz. Modulation patterns lagged with increasing f(B). The necessary L(B) decreased by 12dB/octave with increasing f(B) and ran almost parallel to the published infrasound detection threshold. No signs of an abrupt change in transmission into the cochlea were found between infra- and low-frequency sounds. The results show clearly that infrasound enters the inner ear, and can alter cochlear processing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cochlea / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Otoacoustic Emissions, Spontaneous*
  • Perceptual Distortion*
  • Sound*