The middle ear features three small bones (stapes) that vibrate when sound enters, which sends soundwaves to the inner ear (cochlea). These soundwaves are then converted into signals that are transmitted to the brain. Otosclerosis occurs when one or more of these vibrating bones becomes stuck in place, eventually fusing with surrounding bone and disrupting this delicate process. If left untreated, otosclerosis may lead to partial or complete deafness.
Otosclerosis is an uncommon condition with causes that aren’t fully understood. Researchers believe that abnormal stapes bone remodeling may be linked to:
- Immune disorders
- Past measles infections
- Stress fractures in boney inner ear structures
- An imbalance of immune system cells (cytokines)
Additionally, otosclerosis appears to run in families and is most likely to affect middle-aged Caucasian women, although this condition can occur in anyone.
Many people with otosclerosis begin to notice changes in their hearing in their 20s and 30s. The most common signs and symptoms of otosclerosis include:
- Hearing loss that progressively worsens, sometimes starting in one ear and moving to the other
- Finding it easier to hear when background noise is present
- Ringing, roaring or buzzing noises in the ears (tinnitus)
- Marked difficulty hearing whispers and deep, low sounds
- Feeling as though you’re speaking too loudly, even when you’re speaking quietly
- Dizziness or balance problems
Multiple hearing tests can be used to rule out other causes of hearing loss and help diagnose otosclerosis, including audiograms to gauge hearing sensitivity and tympanograms to evaluate middle-ear sound conduction. In some cases, an imaging test such as a CT scan may be performed to view structures in the middle and inner ear.
Specialized evaluation and treatment for otosclerosis and other complex conditions are provided at Tampa General Hospital’s ENT & Urology Institute. Care plans vary, but the two main forms of treatment for otosclerosis include:
- Wearing a hearing aid to improve hearing in the affected ear
- Surgery to replace the abnormal stapes bone with a tiny implant that facilitates normal soundwave transmission
Otosclerosis-related hearing loss is typically able to be significantly improved or fully restored when this condition is diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.