Big stimulus, little ears: Safety in administering vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials in children

Megan L.A. Thomas, Denis Fitzpatrick, Ryan McCreery, Kristen L. Janky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Cervical and ocular vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials (VEMPs) have become common clinical vestibular assessments. However, VEMP testing requires high intensity stimuli, raising concerns regarding safety with children, where sound pressure levels may be higher due to their smaller ear canal volumes. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to estimate the range of peak-to-peak equivalent sound pressure levels (peSPLs) in child and adult ears in response to high intensity stimuli (i.e., 100 dB normal hearing level [nHL]) commonly used for VEMP testing and make a determination of whether acoustic stimuli levels with VEMP testing are safe for use in children. Research Design: Prospective experimental. Study Sample: Ten children (4-6 years) and ten young adults (24-35 years) with normal hearing sensitivity and middle ear function participated in the study. Data Collection and Analysis: Probemicrophone peSPL measurements of clicks and 500 Hz tonebursts (TBs) were recorded in tubes of small, medium, and large diameter, and in a Brüel & Kjær Ear Simulator Type 4157 to assess for linearity of the stimulus at high levels. The different diameter tubes were used to approximate the range of cross-sectional areas in infant, child, and adult ears, respectively. Equivalent ear canal volume and peSPL measurements were then recorded in child and adult ears. Lower intensity levels were used in the participant's ears to limit exposure to high intensity sound. The peSPL measurements in participant ears were extrapolated using predictions from linear mixed models to determine if equivalent ear canal volume significantly contributed to overall peSPL and to estimate the mean and 95% confidence intervals of peSPLs in child and adult ears when high intensity stimulus levels (100 dB nHL) are used for VEMP testing without exposing subjects to high-intensity stimuli. Results: Measurements from the coupler and tubes suggested: 1) each stimuli was linear, 2) there were no distortions or nonlinearities at high levels, and 3) peSPL increased with decreased tube diameter. Measurements in participant ears suggested: 1) peSPL was approximately 3 dB larger in child compared to adult ears, and 2) peSPL was larger in response to clicks compared to 500 Hz TBs. The model predicted the following 95% confidence interval for a 100 dB nHL click: 127-136.5 dB peSPL in adult ears and 128.7-138.2 dB peSPL in child ears. The model predicted the following 95% confidence interval for a 100 dB nHL 500 Hz TB stimulus: 122.2-128.2 dB peSPL in adult ears and 124.8-130.8 dB peSPL in child ears. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that 1) when completing VEMP testing, the stimulus is approximately 3 dB higher in a child's ear, 2) a 500 Hz TB is recommended over a click as it has lower peSPL compared to the click, and 3) both duration and intensity should be considered when choosing VEMP stimuli. Calculating the total sound energy exposure for your chosen stimuli is recommended as it accounts for both duration and intensity. When using this calculation for children, consider adding 3 dB to the stimulus level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-403
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Children
  • Vestibular
  • Vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing


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