Otoacoustic emissions (OAE’s) are low level, inaudible sounds produced by the outer hair cells of the inner ear (cochlea). OAE’s can either occur spontaneously or in response to clicks or tones. When the hair cells of the inner ear are stimulated, they respond by sending information to the brain and by sending an “echo” back to the outer ear. This “echo” can be analyzed and recorded. OAE’s are usually present in individuals with a normal functioning cochlea but may be absent if even a mild conductive or cochlear hearing loss exists.
Some of the uses for OAE testing are:
- Screening tool for hearing loss in infants, newborns, very young children
- Identify functional or non-organic hearing loss
- Differential diagnosis between cochlear and retro-cochlear hearing loss
- Monitoring for medications that are toxic to the ear-it can detect cochlear dysfunction before actual hearing loss is present.
- Noise/music exposure
- Excessive noise impacts the outer hair cells
- Can provide objective confirmation of cochlear dysfunction in patients with normal hearing
- Can provide early warning sign of cochlear dysfunction due to noise exposure before any hearing loss is evident
- May provide information regarding cochlear function in patients with tinnitus by identifying the cochlear region corresponding to the pitch of the tinnitus
During testing in a sound treated room, a soft probe tip (similar to a sound plug) is placed snugly in the ear canal. A series of clicks or tones are delivered through the probe tip. This probe also reads the very soft “echo” or cochlea’s response. It is important for the patient to sit very still and to remain relaxed and quiet during testing. The recordings are then printed and analyzed by the Audiologist. The entire test takes approximately 10 minutes.
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