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Hydrostatic pressure in the inner ear fluid compartments and its effects on inner ear function.

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Otolaryngologic Clinic, University Hospital, Zürich, Switzerland.


The present study summarizes the experimental findings obtained on the pressure in the inner ear fluids and on the effects of pressure changes on cochlear function in the guinea pig. Two types of pressures have to be distinguished in the inner ear fluid compartments: (i) hydrostatic fluid pressure and (ii) superimposed hydrodynamic high frequency (> 100 Hz) sound pressure oscillations. Hydrostatic pressure in the inner ear fluids in guinea pigs is in the order of 200 Pa (2 cm H2O) and shows slow (< 5 Hz) respiratory and pulsatory oscillations as well as considerable physiological variations in the range of -100 to +700 Pa. In normal ears, hydrostatic pressure in the perilymph equals pressure in the endolymph, and pressure changes applied to one compartment are immediately transmitted to the other one. A high compliance of Reissner's membrane seems to be the cause of this endolymphatic-perilymphatic pressure equalization. In experimental endolymphatic hydrops, a unique animal model for Meniere's disease, endolymphatic pressure is higher (100 Pa and above) than perilymphatic pressure. These pressure gradients occur only in late stages of hydrops, probably when Reissner's membrane has lost its high compliance after long standing distension. Positive endolymphatic-perilymphatic pressure gradients are secondary to and not the primary cause of hydrops formation. Changes of hydrostatic pressure do not affect auditory function as long as they stay in the physiological range. This includes the sudden loss of positive inner ear pressure that occurs in perilymph fistulas. The rationale for surgical repair of perilymph fistulas in patients in order to restore the hearing function thus becomes questionable. Other aspects of surgical repair, however, as e.g. prevention of labyrinthitis due to permanently open fistula, could not be investigated in this model, because in guinea pigs even large fistulas heal spontaneously within a few days. In experimental endolymphatic hydrops, deterioration of auditory thresholds was partially correlated to the presence of positive endolymphatic-perilymphatic pressure gradients. A change in pressure, however, occurred later than the first deterioration in auditory function. Therefore positive endo-perilymphatic pressure gradients may contribute to, but are not the only cause of hearing impairment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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