OAEs are considered to be related to the amplification function of the cochlea. In the absence of external stimulation, the activity of the cochlear amplifier increases, leading to the production of sound. Several lines of evidence suggest that, in mammals, outer hair cells are the elements that enhance cochlear sensitivity and frequency selectivity and hence act as the energy sources for amplification. One theory is that they act to increase the discriminability of signal variations in continuous noise by lowering the masking effect of its cochlear amplification.
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In conjunction with audiometric testing, OAE testing can be completed to determine changes in the responses. Studies have found that exposure to noise can cause a decline in OAE responses. In a study, industrial workers who were exposed to 84.5 dBA of noise were compared to workers who were exposed to 53.2 dBA of noise by considering hearing thresholds and OAEs before and after 5 days of work. This study revealed that hearing thresholds and OAE results were significantly lower among the workers who were exposed to higher levels of noise.
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