Assessment of the peripheral hearing system of sport divers

D Hausmann, S Laabling, S Hoth, P K Plinkert, C Klingmann
Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine: Journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc 2011, 38 (6): 515-26

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of regular scuba diving on the hearing thresholds of sport divers who have no history of noise exposure or ear-related accidents. Comprehensive topographic examination of the peripheral hearing system of sport divers.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

SETTINGS: General sport diving community.

PARTICIPANTS: 81 sport divers with a mean of 300 dives each were compared to a control group of 81 non-divers.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Participants were classified into three age groups. Examination included microscopic otoscopy, tympanometry, pure-tone audiometry (PTA) including air and bone conduction, speech audiometry and otoacoustic emissions (OAE).

RESULTS: PTA suggested significant differences of the hearing thresholds at several frequencies between sport divers and non-divers in all age groups, although a Bonferroni correction for multiple testing was applied. Interestingly, the results were contradictory. Divers obtained better hearing results in air conduction, whereas non-divers showed better results in bone conduction. Speech audiometry and OAE did not reveal significant differences.

CONCLUSION: There are no published studies of the peripheral cochlear system of divers that have used a combination of PTA, speech audiometry and OAE. All studies suggesting hearing impairment in divers were based on PTA and might have been influenced by a lack of accuracy of PTA. Our results suggest that diving does not adversely affect the hearing system of sport divers. A thorough test battery of audiological methods implying PTA, speech audiometry and OAE may contribute to offer more reliable results to answer the question of whether commercial or military divers are at higher risk for hearing detoriation.

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