Otosclerosis is a medical condition that occurs when there is abnormal bone growth in the ear. It is a leading cause of hearing loss in younger adults, though it can affect people at any age.
The middle ear contains three small bones. These are called the incus, malleus and stapes (also called the anvil, hammer and stirrup). These bones transmit vibrations from the outer ear to the cochlear – the part of the ear that converts physical movement into signals that the brain can process.
Under normal circumstances, these bones are separate from each other and free to move independently. However, when a patient has otosclerosis, one of the bones – the stapes – fuses with the neighbouring bone tissue, preventing it from moving. As a result, the middle ear can no longer transmit vibrations to the cochlear efficiently.
What are the symptoms of otosclerosis?
Those liable to develop otosclerosis will usually do so in their twenties and thirties. Symptoms can vary.
Most patients experience some form of hearing loss that deteriorates over time. As the stapes fuses more to the surrounding tissue, it becomes less capable of transmitting sound information efficiently. Over time, this leads to duller hearing and difficulty with deep or quiet sounds.
Patients may also find themselves deliberately talking quietly because their voices sound loud to them. Furthermore, some patients develop tinnitus – a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears that has no external source. Dizziness is another symptom, but it is rare.
Should you get help if you have otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis is a potentially serious condition that can cause severe hearing loss. However, most patients experience mild symptoms.
If you believe that you might have otosclerosis, go to your local hearing clinic and get your ears tested. Audiologists and other hearing health professionals can determine whether the cause of your hearing loss is indeed otosclerosis or another condition, and offer treatment.
Surgery is an option. Here, surgeons separate the bones from each other, restoring hearing in 80 to 90 percent of people.
In some cases, otosclerosis can spread to the cochlear. In these cases, surgery is usually the only way to restore lost hearing.
What treatments are available for otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis is treatable with hearing aids or surgery. In some mild cases, patients do not require any treatment – at least to begin with.
Hearing aids are assistive hearing devices that amplify sounds in your environment. On one side they have a microphone and on the other a speaker. The microphone collects sounds and then sends them to the speaker for amplification.
The speaker section of the hearing aid slots into your ear and faces the eardrum, while the microphone sits on the outside. An onboard processor orchestrates communication between the two.
Wearing hearing aids does not carry any risks, making it a popular option compared to surgery. However, while they do not fix otosclerosis, they can compensate for hearing loss.
If you are interested in wearing hearing aids, go for a consultation with one of our leading London audiologists. They will be able to talk you through the different types of hearing aids we offer and the options available.
The other option is surgery. This route is ideal for those who do not want to wear hearing aids.
Surgeons begin the operation by administering an anaesthetic – either general or local, depending on your preferences. They then make a cut in your ear canal to access the bones in your ear.
During the surgery, they remove part of the stapes bone and replace it with an implant made of plastic or metal that will not fuse with the surrounding tissues. They then stitch the ear canal shut again to complete the operation.
Surgery is usually successful. However, there are complications, including vertigo, facial weakness and tinnitus. Some patients also experience temporary alterations in their sense of taste.
What causes otosclerosis?
Researchers don’t know precisely what causes otosclerosis. They are also unsure whether patients can do anything to prevent it.
Evidence suggests that it is partially hereditary. If parents have it, their children are also more likely to develop the condition. The cause could be a faulty gene or how that gene interacts with certain environments.
Pregnant women can also experience a sudden worsening in otosclerosis symptoms. Changes in hormone levels may make the condition more likely.
Book an appointment with London Hearing
If you suspect you may have otosclerosis, or are experiencing problems with your hearing, book an appointment with London Hearing today.