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’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes otosclerosis or why some people are affected. However, it is known to be common in some families, suggesting a hereditary link. Otosclerosis can begin to develop between the ages of 10 and 45, but it’s more common during a person’s 20s, while symptoms will likely begin to get progressively worse during your 30s.

Both men and women can be affected, but women seem to be more prone to otosclerosis, especially during their pregnancy as a result of hormone changes. There are also some medical conditions which can increase the risk of developing otosclerosis, such as immune disorders, stress fractures and measles.

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 will likely 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

While they are unable to repair the enlarged bone caused by otosclerosis, hearing aids offer an effective and non-invasive treatment. These small electronic devices are designed to amplify sounds entering the ear and are worn either behind the ear or inside for maximum discretion. Your hearing care professional will be able to advise which hearing aids would best suit your specific hearing needs that have been caused by otosclerosis.

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.

Otosclerosis usually only affects the stapes bone in your middle ear. However, there are some cases where it spreads into the inner ear and affects your cochlea, which creates the electrical signals to send to the brain. Hearing loss that results from cochlear otosclerosis is significantly worse and cannot be treated with surgery.

If you have any concerns about your hearing, you should schedule a consultation with your hearing care professional as soon as possible for a hearing evaluation.

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