Impaired cochlear function correlates with the presence of tinnitus and its estimated spectral profile

Hear Res. 2011 Jul;277(1-2):107-16. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2011.02.006. Epub 2011 Mar 2.


The presence of tinnitus often coincides with hearing loss. It has been argued that reduced peripheral input leads to frequency-specific increase in neuronal gains resulting in tinnitus-related hyper-activity. Following this gain-adaptation hypothesis, impaired cochlear function should be predictive of the presence and spectral characteristics of tinnitus. To assess cochlear function, perceptual thresholds and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) were measured with high frequency resolution for subjects with tinnitus and non-tinnitus control subjects (N = 29 and N = 18) with and without hearing loss. Subjects with tinnitus also provided a 'tinnitus likeness spectrum' by rating the similarity of their tinnitus to tones at various frequencies. On average, subjects with tinnitus had elevated thresholds, reduced DPOAE, and increased slope of the DPOAE input-output function in the range from 4 to 10 kHz. These measures were strongly correlated and were equally predictive of the presence of tinnitus. Subjects with a pronounced edge to their hearing loss profile were very likely to have tinnitus. In the group average, the tinnitus likeness spectrum was correlated with perceptual thresholds (r = 0.98, p < 0.01), confirming previous reports. For 19 of 29 of subjects, perceptual thresholds were correlated with the tinnitus likeness ratings across frequencies and this correlation was significantly improved when low input-level DPOAE were included as an additional variable (r = 0.83 ± 0.09, N = 19). Thus, cochlear function is strongly associated with the tinnitus percept and measures of cochlear function using DPOAEs provide additional diagnostic information over perceptual thresholds alone.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adult
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cochlea / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Otoacoustic Emissions, Spontaneous*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Tinnitus / diagnosis
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology*