Distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAE) have become part of routine audiological diagnostics. The large scale of clinical DPOAE applications, such as screening of hearing in infants, objective estimation of hearing status, distinction between cochlear and retrocochlear origin of sensorineural hearing loss, exclusion of psychogenic hearing loss, monitoring of hearing during administration of ototoxic drugs, and others illustrates the significance of this audiological tool. In all diagnostic tests, knowledge about the procedure’s test–retest repeatability is of crucial importance, to allow for distinction between measurement deviations and true physiological or pathological changes in monitoring over time.Design:
Measurements of DPOAE were performed in triplicate in 80 normally hearing ears of 40 subjects. Both immediate remeasurements with the ear probe left in place [single-fit mode (SF-mode)] and remeasurements after approximately 5 to 10 days [multiple-fit mode (MF-mode)] were included. DPOAE primary tone levels were varied in 5 dB steps from L2 = 60 to 20 dB SPL (L1 = L2 × 0.4 + 39 dB SPL) and within the frequency range f2 = 1 to 6 kHz. Repeatability of DPOAE was evaluated by the standard error of measurement (Sm), reliability (Cronbach α), absolute differences between measurements, 95% confidence intervals, and repeatability standard deviations.Results:
Sm averaged 0.67 dB over all frequencies and primary tone levels in the SF-mode, and 1.44 dB in the MF-mode, respectively. As expected, test–retest repeatability declined with decreasing primary tone levels; however, repeatability values were still mostly satisfactory with the lower primary tone levels. For the exemplary primary tone level combination of L1/L2 = 63/60 dB SPL, which is close to common clinical paradigms, the difference between two DPOAE measurements under the reported test conditions could be considered statistically significant (p = 0.05) if it exceeded 0.7 to 1.3 dB in the range 1 to 5 kHz and 2.3 dB for 6 kHz in the SF-mode, when compared with 1.8 to 2.7 dB for 1 to 5 kHz and 3.7 dB for 6 kHz in the MF-mode. Signal to noise ratio (SNR) did not seem to have a large influence on repeatability, as long as SNR was within 6 to 35 dB, which covers the range of most clinical DPOAE measurements.Conclusions:
The DPOAE-test–retest study presented here is to our knowledge the first, which combines variation of primary tone levels, assessment of both SF- and MF-modes, and comparison of the two modalities within the same subjects. Although the measurements were conducted under practical conditions resembling the clinical setting, repeatability was generally good. The widely used minimum SNR of 6 dB seems to be a recommendable criterion when considering both practicability and measurement quality under clinical conditions. The current findings underline the suitability of DPOAE as a monitoring tool of cochlear status over time. The data are intended to assist the clinician and the scientist in the correct interpretation of DPOAE level changes in the test–retest situation.