Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is one of the most common causes of progressive hearing loss in younger adults.

What is Otosclerosis?

'Otosclerosis is caused by an abnormal growth of bone in the ears, which causes hearing loss. In its early stages, the sufferer will normally not be affected. In most cases, a surgical operation will restore the hearing.

Otosclerosis has to do with the three small bones in the middle ear, more specifically the stapes. A part of the bone will grow abnormally and this bone growth will prevent the stapes from vibrating normally in response to sound.

How does otosclerosis cause hearing loss?

Otosclerosis has to do with the three small bones in the middle ear, more specifically the stapes. A part of the bone will grow abnormally and this bone growth will prevent the stapes from vibrating normally in response to sound. The stapes are vital for transmitting sound waves from the outer ear, through the middle ear and into the inner ear. When the stapes do not move properly, the sound that is sent from the middle ear into the inner ear is reduced which causes a hearing loss. 

Causes of Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is often inherited, although isolated cases do occur. For instance, some connections to measles and pregnancy have been observed as worsening the case of otosclerosis. Both ears may be affected but it is more common for one ear to be more severely affected than the other. If left untreated, hearing loss typically worsens progressively until late middle age when complete deafness occurs.

The most famous otosclerosis victim is said to have been Beethoven. Deafness made him unable to hear his late compositions.

Symptoms of Otosclerosis

An otosclerosis diagnosis should be made by a specialist, but some signs can be detected by the suffering person or their relatives.

Strong background noise can add to the confusion of people with nerve deafness, but in the case of otosclerosis, this confusion does not often occur. Sometimes the person may even hear better in noisy surroundings (paracusis), possibly because of the high frequency and loudness of other people's voices in those circumstances. Otosclerosis tends to affect low frequencies more than high ones.

Symptoms may also appear in form of dizziness, balance problems (vertigo), and tinnitus.

How is otosclerosis diagnosed?

Otosclerosis is diagnosed by a medical examination of the middle ear, typically by an ENT-doctor or a hearing professional.

Treatment of Otosclerosis

Hearing aids help people who are suffering from conductive deafness, including otosclerosis. However, a hearing aid will not cure the deafness. Since the deafness is progressive, more powerful hearing aids may be needed as time goes by. In the early stages, hearing aids are a great help for those who do not wish to undergo surgery.

Surgery for Otosclerosis

Surgical operations are widely performed, and it is a relatively simple procedure. Either the part of the stapes with the abnormal bone growth is removed in order to insert a tiny implant (stapedotomy), or the entire stapes bone is replaced by a small prosthesis (stapedectomy). Both surgeries can restore hearing. In many of the cases the symptoms of vertigo and tinnitus will also disappear.

What should I do if I think I have otosclerosis?

If you think that you have otosclerosis, e.g. because others in your family have it, as it is often inherited, you should contact a doctor or a hearing professional to have your middle ear examined and have your hearing tested.