Distortion-Product Otoacoustic Emissions as a Screening Tool for Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss includes both temporary (TTS) and permanent (PTS) threshold shifts. Although TTS and PTS have many similarities, their underlying mechanisms are different. Both TTS and PTS are seen in hearing-conservation programs, making it important to consider both when making physiological measurements of inner-ear damage in applied settings. There are many ways that physiological mechanisms could be useful in screening for NIHL. Can normal-hearing and NIHL ears be differentiated from one another? Can the physiological measure be used in place of behavioural hearing-threshold measures of TTS and PTS? Can it be used to indicate sub-clinical damage (i.e., noise-induced permanent alterations to the inner ear without a corresponding hearing decrement)? Can it be used to indicate pre-clinical hearing loss (i.e., the sub-clinical damage eventually turns into hearing loss)? Finally, can the physiological measure be used to predict susceptibility to NIHL? Evoked otoacoustic emissions (EOAEs) depend on normal outer hair cells for their generation. Because this is the site in the inner ear in humans that is most susceptible to noise, there has been considerable interest in the application of EOAEs to NIHL screening. In this review, the application of distortion-product EOAEs (DPOAEs) is considered for this purpose, emphasizing work from our laboratory, but including that of others as well. Wherever possible, we compare the performance of DPOAEs as a screening tool to transient-evoked otoacoustic emissions (TEOAEs). We emphasize the importance of how well DPOAEs perform in screening for NIHL in individuals rather than for groups of people; the importance of using large numbers of subjects; and the importance of longitudinal studies.