Current clinical practice cannot distinguish, with any degree of certainty, the multiple pathologies that produce conductive hearing loss in patients with an intact tympanic membrane and a well-aerated middle ear without exploratory surgery. The lack of an effective non-surgical diagnostic procedure leads to unnecessary surgery and limits the accuracy of information available during pre-surgical consultations with the patient. A non-invasive measurement to determine the pathology responsible for a conductive hearing loss prior to surgery would be of great value. This work investigates the utility of wideband acoustic immittance (WAI), a non-invasive measure of middle-ear mobility, in the differential diagnosis of pathologies responsible for conductive hearing loss.
We focus on determining whether power reflectance (PR), a derivative of WAI, is a possible solution to this problem. PR is a measure of the fraction of sound power reflected from the middle ear when a sound stimulus is presented to the ear canal. PR and other metrics of middle-ear performance (such as ossicular motion via laser Doppler vibrometry) were measured in well-controlled human temporal bone preparations with simulated pathologies. We report measurements before and after simulation of stapes fixation (n = 8), malleus fixation (n = 10), ossicular disarticulation (n = 10), and superior canal dehiscence (n = 8). Our results are consistent with the small set of previously published reflectance measurements made in temporal bones and patients. In this present study, these temporal bone experiments with different middle- and inner-ear pathologies were compared to the initial normal state by analyzing both WAI and ossicular motion, demonstrating that WAI can be a valuable tool in the diagnosis of conductive hearing loss.