Tinnitus and dizziness are symptoms of acute mountain sickness. We investigated the mechanism by which high altitude (i.e. hypobaric hypoxia) affects inner ear function by measuring transient evoked otoacoustic emissions (TEOAE) and distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAE) under conditions of normobaric normoxia (1,013 hPa; 760 mm Hg) and hypobaric hypoxia (540 hPa; 405 mm Hg). The possibility that air pressure effects on the eustachian tube impacted our findings was excluded by the use of tympanograms. The nonphysiological effects of hypobaric hypoxia on TEOAE and DPOAE were also assessed using an ear simulator. Under conditions of hypobaric hypoxia, both TEOAE and DPOAE levels were reduced. The amount of reduction that occurred was approximately 4 dB in the total echo power and signal-to-noise ratio of the TEOAE, and in the 2f1 - f2 element level of the DPOAE. Stimulus levels that were measured using an ear simulator were also reduced by approximately 4 dB under conditions of hypobaric hypoxia. These results do not indicate that stimulus levels affected TEOAE and DPOAE levels because these levels were actually only slightly affected by changes in the stimulus level. Instead, this reduction was likely due to the nonphysiological hypobaric effects of the sound pressure emitted from the tympanic membrane. We conclude that the impact of hypobaric hypoxia on cochlear function was negligible up to pressures of 540 hPa.
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