Otosclerosis is a condition of progressive hearing loss in young adults due to an abnormal bone growth in their middle ear. Early symptoms include trouble hearing whispers, low pitched sounds or ringing in ears. While sound therapies can help retrain the brain to tune out the unwanted sounds; surgery, hearing aids, and cochlear implants can help correct this condition.
Did you know that more than 3 million Americans are affected by otosclerosis?1 If you have this condition, you could slowly lose your hearing because of an abnormal bone growth in your middle ear.
The middle ear, which lies just behind the ear drum, has small bones that vibrate and amplify sound waves. An abnormal bone formation here stops these small bones from vibrating. This means that sound waves cannot reach the inner ear, which in turn affects your ability to hear. This condition could affect both your ears or may be restricted to one ear.
Otosclerosis generally develops in early to mid adulthood and is the most prevalent cause of hearing loss associated with the middle ear in young adults.2
Signs To Watch Out For
- Hearing loss is the most common symptom of otosclerosis. It may start in one ear and then affect the other ear as well. The loss of hearing is usually gradual. In fact, many people first appear to only have trouble hearing whispers or low pitched sounds.
- You may hear a ringing, buzzing, roaring, or hissing in the ears or head – a condition known as tinnitus. Although this is not a particularly harmful condition, the noise is often continuous and can impact your day-to-day life by causing loss of concentration and disrupting your sleep.
- You may also experience dizziness or vertigo.3
Are You At Risk?
Certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing otosclerosis. But, remember, even those who do not have any of these risk factors could still be affected by it.
- You are more likely to develop this condition if a close blood relative has it. There is a genetic component to otosclerosis and it seems to run in families.4
- Otosclerosis is twice as common in women than in men. Pregnancy may be a trigger, with many cases being detected during or just after pregnancy. This suggests that hormonal imbalances, especially involving estrogen, could be a trigger.5
- People with a genetic disorder known as osteogenesis imperfecta, which is characterized by brittle bones, are at an increased risk of developing otosclerosis.
- Otosclerosis seems to affect Caucasians more than people of other races.
- Drinking non-fluoridated water may raise your chances of getting otosclerosis if you are susceptible to it.
- There is some evidence that certain viruses (especially the measles virus) play a role in upping your risk of otosclerosis.6
How Do You Deal With Otosclerosis?
If you have significant problems with hearing, there are various options that you can consider.
- Surgery can cure hearing loss or make it better. During a surgical procedure called stapedectomy, a small bone in the middle ear is partly or completely replaced by a prosthesis.
- Some supplements like calcium and vitamin D which are important for bone health could help to slow down your hearing loss. Fluoride, which also affects the health of your teeth and bones, may be helpful as well. However, these treatments have not been definitively established as being beneficial nor their safety confirmed. Do remember to check with your doctor before taking supplements so you do not overdose on them.
- A hearing aid can amplify sounds and make it easier for you to hear. But do note that it can not cure hearing loss or stop it from worsening.7
- Cochlear implants which directly – without using the damaged parts of the ear – stimulate the auditory nerve that sends sound signals to the brain can be helpful for people with otosclerosis.8
- Some therapies can help you manage tinnitus so that it does not disrupt your daily life. For instance, sound therapy which involves listening to neutral sounds can be useful. A music player or a sound generator which produces natural sounds, like the sound of rustling leaves or ocean waves, can distract you from the sounds due to tinnitus. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help to change the way you think and feel about tinnitus so that you can be more accepting of it and it becomes less noticeable. There is also a special therapy known as tinnitus retraining therapy which uses long-term counseling and intensive sound therapy to retrain your brain so you tune out the sounds produced by tinnitus.9
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