Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is a common cause of hearing loss amongst young adults where there is abnormal bone growth within the ear.

There are three tiny bones deep within the ear that vibrate when sound waves enter, they then pass on the sound waves to the inner ear (cochlea), which then translates them into signals that are transmitted to the brain.

When Otosclerosis occurs, the stapes (known as the ‘stirrup’ bone) starts to combine with the adjoining bones in the ear and eventually becomes rigid and unable to move, which in turn means that sound waves can no longer be easily transmitted into the inner ear. The below symptoms can be hard to distinguish from other common causes of hearing loss.

Symptoms of Otosclerosis:

  • Hearing a reoccurring buzzing or humming sound (formally known as Tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss that steadily gets worse
  • Difficulty hearing whispers and low sounds
  • Reducing the volume in which you speak as your voice appears loud to yourself
  • Can hear more clearly when there is background noise present (this distinguishes the condition from other cause of hearing loss)
  • Dizziness (although this is less common)

How serious is Otosclerosis?

Although Otosclerosis can cause mild to severe hearing loss, it is rarely the cause for complete deafness. The person’s hearing normally decreases over time (anything from a couple of months to a few years) and would continue deteriorating if left ignored. Although the condition can progress quickly, hearing is improved or re established in approximately 80-90% of patients that opt to have surgery. Sometimes (although rare), Otosclerosis can spread to the inner ear which results in a more serious level of hearing loss and cannot be reversed with surgery.

When to seek medical help

Make an appointment to see your GP if you have concerns about your hearing. The doctor will usually want a more detailed insight about your symptoms, examine your ears, and conduct simple hearing tests as well as asking about your medical history. If your doctor thinks that Otosclerosis is the cause, you will be referred to a hearing specialist or an ear, nose and throat consultant where they can carry out a more thorough examination of your ears.

Treatment with Hearing aids

The benefit of using a hearing aid is that it is completely risk-free and more recently, discreet. Modern hearing aids are tiny and can be worn inside rather than outside the ear making them hard to detect by other people. An audiologist (hearing specialist) will help you decide which hearing aid will be best suited to your needs.

Treatment with surgery

If you decide against using a hearing aid and would prefer opting for surgery to reverse your hearing loss, surgery can be an option. The two main operations that are carried out is a Stapedotomy or a Stapedectomy and can be performed with either general or local anaesthetic.

A cut is made inside, above or in front of the ear to access the affected bones. A part of the stapes bone is removed and replaced with a metal or plastic implant that can send out the sound waves from the remaining bones in the ear. You will usually be discharged the same, if not the next day.

This procedure is generally very successful but with all operative procedures, it holds a few risks, which include:

  • A decline in your hearing, or sometimes, complete deafness (though rare, present in about 1 in 100 patients)
  • A temporary distorted sense of taste
  • Tinnitus
  • Temporary vertigo
  • Weakened facial muscles (extremely rare)

What causes Otosclerosis? 

Experts are uncertain as to what causes Otosclerosis and it is unclear whether you can take measures to prevent it from occurring. Numerous cases seem to be common in family members, so there is a suggestion that it may be possible to be inherited from a parent with a faulty gene.