Otosclerosis is believed to affect more than 3 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and usually starts when you are young. Otosclerosis is one of the rarer ear diseases of the middle ear and the bones in the inner ear that can lead to hearing loss.

The definition of otosclerosis is the abnormal formation of new bone in the middle ear that stops the stapes, a small bone in the middle ear, from moving, which stops it from vibrating in response to sound, leading to progressive conductive hearing loss. Your stapes bone needs to vibrate for you to hear well, so when this doesn’t happen, the sound is unable to travel from your middle ear to your inner ear, making it hard for you to hear.

Causes of otosclerosis

It isn’t entirely clear as to why otosclerosis happens or why it affects certain people. However, it does seem to run in families. You can start developing otosclerosis between 10 and 45 years old, but you are more likely to get otosclerosis when you are in your 20s, with symptoms getting worse in your 30s. Both women and men can get otosclerosis, but women have a higher risk, especially during pregnancy. Certain medical conditions such as measles, stress fractures, and immune disorders are thought to increase your risk of developing it.

Otosclerosis symptoms

Hearing loss is considered the main symptom of otosclerosis, which can occur in just one or both of your ears. Most people tend to notice hearing problems associated with otosclerosis in their 20s or 30s. It does tend to be a gradual hearing loss, so most people only begin to notice a change in their hearing later in life.

To begin with, you might find that your hearing is significantly better when you are in noisy or crowded environments. This is because otosclerosis affects how low-pitched or deep sounds are heard. So if a person is speaking loudly, it is much easier to hear and doesn’t get lost in the background noise. For some people, it can make their voice seem louder to them so they tend to speak more quietly.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Difficulty hearing low-pitched sounds or whispers
  • Problems with your balance or dizziness

Otosclerosis treatment

Otosclerosis is likely to get worse over time as the bone continues to become more and more immobile. If it is left untreated, your hearing will gradually get worse as a result. Once you have been diagnosed with otosclerosis, the good news is that any hearing loss you have experienced as a result of it can be improved and treated by either hearing aids or with otosclerosis surgery.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids are less invasive than surgery and offer a quick improvement to your hearing by amplifying the sounds that enter your ear. They are electronic devices that are worn inside or behind the ear and most modern hearing aids are very small and discreet. Your hearing care professional will identify the kind of sound situations where your hearing needs improvement and will recommend the right hearing aid for your needs.

Otosclerosis surgery

Surgery is an additional option to treat otosclerosis. The procedure, called stapedectomy surgery, involves removing some of the enlarged bone and replacing it with a plastic or metal implant to help the bones work normally.

In most cases, otosclerosis just affects the stapes bone in your middle ear. However, it can sometimes spread into the inner ear and affect your cochlea. This is what creates the electrical signals to send to the brain. Hearing loss that results from cochlear otosclerosis is significantly worse than with otosclerosis and cannot be treated with surgery.

If you have any concerns about your hearing, you should schedule a consultation with your hearing care professional.

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