Objective: A dead region (DR) is defined as a region in the cochlea where inner hair cells and/or neurons are functioning so poorly that a tone producing peak vibration in this region is detected by off-frequency listening, i.e., via a place on the basilar membrane with a characteristic frequency different from that of the tone. The presence of a DR can have a significant effect on the perception of speech. People with and without DRs may differ in the benefit obtained from amplification and require different hearing aid settings. The Threshold Equalizing Noise (TEN) test and psychophysical tuning curves (PTCs) are two procedures used to identify a DR in adults. Because diagnosing a DR involves measuring masked thresholds, and there are reports in the literature that young children perform poorly compared with adults in background noise, it may be possible that the criteria used with adults may not be appropriate when testing children. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the consistency of the fast-PTC and TEN tests in diagnosing a DR in hearing-impaired children. In addition, the masked thresholds for normal-hearing children were measured with different TEN levels to assess whether any age-related effect in children compared with adults may occur.
Design: Participants were divided into two groups: eight normal-hearing children (16 ears) and 12 hearing-impaired children (21 ears), aged 7 to 13 yr. TEN is based on measuring masked threshold in TEN. For normal-hearing participants, the masked thresholds were measured for five levels of noise (30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 dB per averaged equivalent rectangular bandwidth). For hearing-impaired participants, the level of the TEN was selected separately for each ear based on the highest acceptable level minus 5 dB. The TEN test results in hearing-impaired children were further validated by measuring fast-PTCs. The fast-PTC technique involves measuring the level of the narrowband noise masker needed to mask the signal. The center frequency of the masker sweeps across the required frequency range.
Results: The masked thresholds in TEN measured for normal-hearing children were usually below and never higher than 5 dB above TEN level per averaged equivalent rectangular bandwidth. This suggests that no age-related effect on masked threshold in children compared with adults was observed. All hearing-impaired children were able to perform the TEN test and fast-PTCs. The results of the two tests were consistent in 17 of 21 ears (81%): eight ears did not show evidence of a DR and nine ears did. In three ears, the criteria for a DR were met on the TEN test, but there was no evidence of a DR on the fast-PTC test. In one ear, the TEN test did not show evidence of DRs at two frequencies, whereas fast-PTCs did.
Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that DRs can be detected in children using the fast-PTC technique and the TEN test interpreted with the adult criteria, which are the most appropriate in terms of specificity and sensitivity. However, in cases in which the masked threshold is 10 to 15 dB above the TEN level, it is recommended to confirm DR diagnosis with fast-PTC measurement.