Within- and Across-Subject Variability of Repeated Measurements of Medial Olivocochlear-Induced Changes in Transient-Evoked Otoacoustic Emissions

Ian B. Mertes, Shawn S. Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Measurement of changes in transient-evoked otoacoustic emissions (TEOAEs) caused by activation of the medial olivocochlear reflex (MOCR) may have clinical applications, but the clinical utility is dependent in part on the amount of variability across repeated measurements. The purpose of this study was to investigate the within-and across-subject variability of these measurements in a research setting as a step toward determining the potential clinical feasibility of TEOAE-based MOCR measurements. Design: In 24 normal-hearing young adults, TEOAEs were elicited with 35 dB SL clicks and the MOCR was activated by 35 dB SL broadband noise presented contralaterally. Across a 5-week span, changes in both TEOAE amplitude and phase evoked by MOCR activation (MOC shifts) were measured at four sessions, each consisting of four independent measurements. Efforts were undertaken to reduce the effect of potential confounds, including slow drifts in TEOAE amplitude across time, activation of the middle-ear muscle reflex, and changes in subjects' attentional states. MOC shifts were analyzed in seven 1/6-octave bands from 1 to 2 kHz. The variability of MOC shifts was analyzed at the frequency band yielding the largest and most stable MOC shift at the first session. Within-subject variability was quantified by the size of the standard deviations across all 16 measurements. Across-subject variability was quantified as the range of MOC shift values across subjects and was also described qualitatively through visual analyses of the data. Results: A large majority of MOC shifts in subjects were statistically significant. Most subjects showed stable MOC shifts across time, as evidenced by small standard deviations and by visual clustering of their data. However, some subjects showed within-and across-session variability that could not be explained by changes in hearing status, middle ear status, or attentional state. Simulations indicated that four baseline measurements were sufficient to predict the expected variability of subsequent measurements. However, the measured variability of subsequent MOC shifts in subjects was often larger than expected (based on the variability present at baseline), indicating the presence of additional variability at subsequent sessions. Conclusions: Results indicated that a wide range of within-and across-subject variability of MOC shifts was present in a group of young normal-hearing individuals. In some cases, very large changes in MOC shifts (e.g., 1.5 to 2 dB) would need to occur before one could attribute the change to either an intervention or pathology, rather than to measurement variability. It appears that MOC shifts, as analyzed in the present study, may be too variable for clinical use, at least in some individuals. Further study is needed to determine the extent to which changes in MOC shifts can be reliably measured across time for clinical purposes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e72-e84
JournalEar and hearing
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory efferent system
  • Contralateral suppression
  • MOC
  • Reliability
  • Repeatability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Speech and Hearing


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