1 Acoustic Technology, Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark2 Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark3 Hearing Systems, Department of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark4 Centre for Applied Hearing Research, Center, Technical University of Denmark
A great deal of the processing of incoming sounds to the auditory system occurs within the cochlear. The organ of Corti within the cochlea has differing mechanical properties along its length that broadly gives rise to frequency selectivity. Its stiffness is at maximum at the base and decreases towards the apex, resulting in locally resonant behaviour. This means high frequencies have maximal response at the base and low frequencies at the apex. The wave travelling along the basilar membrane has a longer travel time for low-frequency stimulus than for high-frequency stimulus. The intrinsic relation between frequency and travel time in the cochlea defines the cochlear delay. This delay is directly associated with the signal analysis occurring in the inner ear and is therefore of primary interest to get a better knowledge of this organ. It is possible to estimate the cochlear delay by direct and invasive techniques, but these disrupt the normal functioning of the cochlea and are usually conducted in animals. In order to obtain an estimate of the cochlear delay that is closer to the normally functioning human cochlea, the present project investigates non-invasive methods in normal hearing adults. These methods include: otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) and auditory steady-state responses (ASSRs). A comparison between the three methods was made across and within subjects, in order to highlight the impact of inter-subject variability on the cochlear delay estimates. The estimates of the cochlear delay obtained with OAEs, ABRs and ASSRs were in good agreement with previously reported studies. The comparison between OAE and ABR latency estimates was made over a broader range of frequencies (0:5-8 kHz), compared to previous studies. Below about 2 kHz the OAE delay is twice the cochlear delay, as if the travelling wave went back and forth in the cochlea, as predicted in current theories of OAE generation. This relation, however, does not hold for higher frequencies, calling into question the physical relation between OAE and ABR delay estimates. The comparison between ABR and ASSR latency estimates demonstrated similar rates of latency decrease as a function of frequency. It was further concluded, in this thesis, that OAE measurements are the most appropriate to estimate cochlear delays, since they had the best repeatability and the shortest recording time. Preliminary results are also given for an experiment using stimuli designed to compensate for OAE delays. These were designed to try and reproduce the success of similar stimuli now used routinely to improve ABR signal-to-noise ratio.