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If your hearing loss seems gradual, you may be suffering from a rare condition called otosclerosis. A disorder affecting the middle ear, otosclerosis may be present in one or both ears – and should be investigated as soon as possible.

Otosclerosis is all to do with three bones within the middle ear: the malleus, the incus and the stapes. When one of these small bones gets stuck in place, it cannot vibrate, meaning you won’t be able to hear as well. Over time, the cochlea and hearing nerve are affected as well, which can result in permanent hearing loss.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at how to identify otosclerosis, along with treatment options for its effects…

Otosclerosis prognosis

Because our ear bones tend to become less malleable as we age, otosclerosis only gets worse the longer you leave it. Without proper treatment, the most probable outcome will be your hearing going through a period of slow deterioration. While complete hearing loss from otosclerosis is rare, it can still happen indirectly as a result, which is why early, successful treatment is so important.

The good news is that wearing hearing aids or having surgery for otosclerosis both have excellent outcomes. Most patients report their hearing being improved or even completely restored after treatment.

Otosclerosis symptoms

Otosclerosis is not a condition to approach lightly. The deafness it causes can be debilitating and, if left untreated, deteriorates over time. In a small percentage of people, the level of hearing loss may be profound or even permanent. Both ears are susceptible; however, it’s more common for men to experience the condition in one ear greater than the other.
Common signs of otosclerosis include:
  • Hearing loss that worsens gradually
  • Unable to detect low, deep sounds and whispers
  • Speaking quietly
  • Finding it easier to hear with some background noise
  • Dizziness (in rare cases)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Balance problems
If there’s any indication of the above in your overall hearing health, visit your GP or an audiologist and have them examine you for otosclerosis.

Treatment for Otosclerosis

For mild cases, otosclerosis may not need treatment initially. Still, it’s always better to develop a plan with your doctor or hearing health specialist before the condition can escalate.

There are two main treatment options for otosclerosis:
  • Hearing aids: As a means of improvement, hearing are by far the least invasive and the quickest to work. Amplifying sounds as they enter your ear, you should regain normal hearing capabilities very soon. Identifying the right hearing aid for you will come down to any specific needs as well as your doctor’s professional recommendation.
  • Surgery: Treating otosclerosis with surgery is another option. A stapedotomy, or stapedectomy, procedure can be performed, which entails partial removal of the ear bone that has become too enlarged. The surgeon will then insert an implant, so your bones should start working normally again.
When it comes to deciding the best treatment for otosclerosis, always consult a doctor, who will be able to advise what’s best based on your individual case.

Frequently asked questions

Who is Otosclerosis most common in?
Young adults are more susceptible to otosclerosis than any other age group, specifically those in their 20s and 30s. Also, it’s worth noting that women appear at greater risk of developing this condition, so be on the lookout if symptoms start manifesting themselves.
How does otosclerosis cause hearing loss?
Otosclerosis is brought about when one of the bones in the middle ear, usually the stapes, becomes stuck and unable to vibrate. Sound is all about vibration, and when these waves are unable to travel through the ear, hearing becomes impaired.
Can otosclerosis cause headaches?
Headaches are a secondary symptom of otosclerosis. If you start having headaches and these are already accompanied by mild or major bouts of hearing loss, contact your GP immediately.