Otosclerosis is a conductive hearing loss that affects balance and dizziness. It occurs when a middle ear abnormality causes gradual hearing loss. The term otosclerosis is a combination of “oto” meaning “ear”, and sclerosis meaning “abnormal tissue hardening.” Abnormal bone tissue hardening occurs in the middle ear, disrupting the ability of sound to travel to the inner ear. Here’s how to spot otosclerosis: what it looks like, how it’s treated.
What is Otosclerosis? How it Forms and How to Spot It
Otosclerosis is a hearing loss that occurs when the stapes bone — one of the three bones in the middle ear — gets displaced. This bone is responsible for transmitting sound waves to the inner ear.
This bone, which is also called the stirrup, is attached to the oval window of the middle ear and transmits sound vibrations to the inner ear. The oval window is the direct connection between the middle ear and the inner ear.
The stapes bone is usually attached to the oval window by a thin membrane or ligament. But in otosclerosis, the stapes bone hardens, and the ligament becomes much thinner. The end result is that the stapes bone no longer vibrates, and the sound cannot travel to the inner ear—this loss of sound transmission results in hearing loss, dizziness, and imbalance.
How does otosclerosis form?
The exact cause of otosclerosis is unknown, but it is thought to result from abnormal bone growth. As mentioned, the stapes bone is usually connected to the oval window by a thin ligament. This ligament is called the stapedial ligament. As it gets thinner, the normally round shape of the stapes bone becomes oval.
The bone begins to enlarge and thicken, ultimately shrinking the oval window. Over time, the oval window actually closes, creating a bone overgrowth. The bone overgrowth of the stapes bone and the ensuing reduction in the size of the oval window disrupts the transmission of sound waves.
Who is prone to otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis is a genetic disease, which means that it is typically inherited. It can be inherited from either parent. Some chromosomal abnormalities are thought to play a part in the development of otosclerosis.
In addition to being genetic, otosclerosis is typically found in people who have family members with the disease. It’s also more common in women than men.
What are the symptoms of otosclerosis?
If the disease is in the early stages, the symptoms may not become obvious until the hearing loss is quite advanced.
In the beginning, you may notice difficulty hearing speech in noisy situations. A ringing or buzzing sound may also be heard. As the disease progresses, a loss of balance may be noticed.
Those who develop mild to moderate hearing loss are often constantly tired. They may feel like the noise in their head never goes away and are at a higher risk of depression.
If you or a loved one has been experiencing these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she will look into your symptoms and conduct a thorough physical exam, which may include a hearing test.
Once you’ve gotten the diagnosis of otosclerosis, an otolaryngologist can determine the best treatment plan for you. The medical term for otosclerosis is otosclerosis.
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