Reflection- and Distortion-Source Otoacoustic Emissions: Evidence for Increased Irregularity in the Human Cochlea During Aging

Carolina Abdala, Amanda J. Ortmann, Christopher A. Shera

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24 Scopus citations


Previous research on distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE) components has hinted at possible differences in the effect of aging on the two basic types of OAEs: those generated by a reflection mechanism in the cochlea and those created by nonlinear distortion (Abdala and Dhar in J Assoc Res Otolaryngol 13:403–421, 2012). This initial work led to the hypothesis that micromechanical irregularity (“roughness”) increases in the aging cochlea, perhaps as the result of natural tissue degradation. Increased roughness would boost the backscattering of traveling waves (i.e., reflection emissions) while minimally impacting DPOAEs. To study the relational effect of aging on both types of emissions and address our hypothesis of its origin, we measured reflection- and distortion-type OAEs in 77 human subjects aged 18–76 years. The stimulus-frequency OAE (SFOAE), a reflection emission, and the distortion component of the DPOAE, a nonlinear distortion emission, were recorded at multiple stimulus levels across a four-octave range in all ears. Although the levels of both OAE types decreased with age, the rate of decline in OAE level was consistently greater for DPOAEs than for SFOAEs; that is, SFOAEs are relatively preserved with advancing age. Multiple regression analyses and other controls indicate that aging per se, and not hearing loss, drives this effect. Furthermore, SFOAE generation was simulated using computational modeling to explore the origin of this result. Increasing the amount of mechanical irregularity with age produced an enhancement of SFOAE levels, providing support for the hypothesis that increased intra-cochlear roughness during aging may preserve SFOAE levels. The characteristic aging effect—relatively preserved reflection-emission levels combined with more markedly reduced distortion-emission levels—indicates that SFOAE magnitudes in elderly individuals depend on more than simply the gain of the cochlear amplifier. This relative pattern of OAE decline with age may provide a diagnostic marker for aging-related changes in the cochlea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-510
Number of pages18
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 31 2018


  • aging roughness
  • emission


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