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October 09, 2013

Damage to the cochlea affects hearing in background noise

Studies involving chinchillas' hearing may benefit humans.

Damage to the cochlea affects hearing in background noise

The cochlea in the inner ear consists of neurons which transform sound into electrical messages which are then sent to the brain. In order for us to process and understand sound, these neurons must work hard when confronted with noisy surroundings.

Researchers from Purdue University in the US have studied hearing loss in chinchillas and how these animals process sound.

The study shows that in quiet surroundings, there is almost no difference in the chinchillas with or without any damage in the cochlea.

But in noisy settings, the neurons cannot synchronise with the sound receiving channels in the brain, as they are focussing on too many sound sources, causing the sounds to be scattered and fuzzy. 

Co-author of the American study, Michael G. Heinz, associate professor of speech, language and hearing science, say's that more realistic background settings must be used for testing how the ear processes sound, as almost all auditory testing today is done in quiet environments.

Chinchillas similar to humans

The animal study show's distinct differences between quiet and noisy settings in the way sound pulses are coded into the brain through different channels for various frequencies.

In the research, chinchillas were used, as these animals have a hearing range similar to that of humans. The background noise sought to stimulate the noise levels humans would experience in a crowded room.

The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and is thought to be groundbreaking in its research of testing both in noisy and quiet settings.

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