Acoustic reflex preshoot: A sign of contraction of the tensor tympani muscle?

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Abstract

Two tiny muscles are attached to the ossicles of the middle ear: the stapedius, whose role as a protector of the inner ear against loud noise has been widely accepted, and the tensor tympani, which remains a mystery since no valid method of detecting its contraction has yet been developed. However, tonic contraction of the tensor tympani has been associated with a number of otological conditions including fullness, tinnitus, slight hearing loss, and Menière-like findings. Our hypothesis is that an easily recognizable sign in the acoustic immittance testing that is part of almost every basic audiological evaluation indicates the contraction of the tensor tympani. During acoustic reflex assessment, a loud stimulus causes a bilateral contraction of the stapedial muscles and an increase in impedance which appears as a deflection in the tracing of the immittance test results. In the case of a contracted tensor tympani, when an intense sound is sent to provoke the acoustic reflex, the stapedius must overcome its resistance which would otherwise have the opposite effect on the footplate. This effort can be seen as a small peak or “preshoot” preceding the greater negative deflection of the impedance. We report the cases of ten patients with unilateral aural symptoms such as tinnitus, impaired noise tolerance, fullness, ear pressure and/or ear discomfort during chewing; the preshoot was present only in the symptomatic ear. If further studies confirm our hypothesis, this could give rise to new therapeutical strategies aimed at reducing contraction of the tensor tympani and balancing its function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110660
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Volume155
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Acoustic reflex
  • Immittance testing
  • Impedance
  • Middle ear muscles
  • Tensor tympani

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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