Objective: The aim of this study was to analyze the fine structure of transient evoked otoacoustic emissions (TEOAEs) and contralateral suppression effects in tinnitus subjects with normal hearing in order to assess whether a minor cochlear or efferent dysfunction, possibly limited in narrow cochlear regions, might play a role in tinnitus.
Methods: TEOAEs were recorded, both in the absence and in the presence of contralateral acoustic stimulation, in 23 tinnitus patients with normal hearing sensitivity and in 31 non-tinnitus control subjects. The broad-band TEOAE recordings were analyzed by using an innovative algorithm and separated into a set of 33 narrow-band frequency components, that represent the different cochlear contributions to the whole TEOAE response. In each frequency component, three different parameters were analyzed and compared between tinnitus and non-tinnitus subjects, i.e., reproducibility, latency, and the suppression effects induced by contralateral acoustic stimulation.
Results: Significantly lower reproducibility was observed in the frequency components of the tinnitus subjects compared to the controls, whereas no significant differences in latency and in suppression effects were observed between tinnitus and non-tinnitus ears.
Conclusions: The analysis of the fine structure of TEOAEs revealed that the tinnitus subjects involved in this study might, possibly, have a minor dysfunction of the cochlear active mechanisms that resulted in frequency components with lower reproducibility. Conversely, the analysis of suppression effects in the narrow-band frequency components of TEOAE indicated that the subjects involved showed no relevant damage to the efferent regulatory mechanisms that control the cochlear activity, neither through the cochlea as a whole, nor in limited cochlear regions.
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