Relationship between Audiometric slope and tinnitus pitch in tinnitus patients: insights into the mechanisms of tinnitus generation.PLoS One. 2012; 7(4):e34878.Plos
Different mechanisms have been proposed to be involved in tinnitus generation, among them reduced lateral inhibition and homeostatic plasticity. On a perceptual level these different mechanisms should be reflected by the relationship between the individual audiometric slope and the perceived tinnitus pitch. Whereas some studies found the tinnitus pitch corresponding to the maximum hearing loss, others stressed the relevance of the edge frequency. This study investigates the relationship between tinnitus pitch and audiometric slope in a large sample.
This retrospective observational study analyzed 286 patients. The matched tinnitus pitch was compared to the frequency of maximum hearing loss and the edge of the audiogram (steepest hearing loss) by t-tests and correlation coefficients. These analyses were performed for the whole group and for sub-groups (uni- vs. bilateral (117 vs. 338 ears), pure-tone vs. narrow-band (340 vs. 115 ears), and low and high audiometric slope (114 vs. 113 ears)).
For the right ear, tinnitus pitch was in the same range and correlated significantly with the frequency of maximum hearing loss, but differed from and did not correlate with the edge frequency. For the left ear, similar results were found but the correlation between tinnitus pitch and maximum hearing loss did not reach significance. Sub-group analyses (bi- and unilateral, tinnitus character, slope steepness) revealed identical results except for the sub-group with high audiometric slope which revealed a higher frequency of maximum hearing loss as compared to the tinnitus pitch.
The study-results confirm a relationship between tinnitus pitch and maximum hearing loss but not to the edge frequency, suggesting that tinnitus is rather a fill-in-phenomenon resulting from homeostatic mechanisms, than the result of deficient lateral inhibition. Sub-group analyses suggest that audiometric steepness and the side of affected ear affect this relationship. Future studies should control for these potential confounding factors.