Spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOAE)s are sounds that are emitted from the ear without external stimulation and are measurable with sensitive microphones in the external ear canal. At least one SOAE can be detected in approx. 35-50% of the population. The sounds are frequency-stable between 500 Hz and 4500 Hz to have unstable volumes between -30 dB SPL and +10 dB SPL. The majority of the people are unaware of their SOAEs; portions of 1-9% however perceive a SOAE as an annoying tinnitus.
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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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