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Otosclerosis is a condition that affects the inner ear and leads to a gradual loss of hearing. It’s most commonly diagnosed in young adults in their 20s and 30s.

What is otosclerosis?

Otosclerosis is caused by abnormal bone growth around and within the inner ear. It usually affects both ears, but it can affect just one ear in some people.

Women are at a higher risk of developing otosclerosis than men, and the condition can be exacerbated, or first noticed, during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of otosclerosis?

The main symptom of otosclerosis is gradual hearing loss. Other symptoms include:

  • Finding it more difficult to hear certain sounds, such as deep or low sounds or whispering
  • Speaking at a lower volume than before, as your own voice sounds loud
  • Hearing a buzzing or ringing sound (tinnitus)

Unusually, people with otosclerosis sometimes find it easier to hear when there’s lots of background noise. Occasionally, otosclerosis can cause dizziness.

What causes otosclerosis?

When sound waves enter the ear, they vibrate the three small bones that are located within the middle ear. The sound energy is then transmitted via the cochlea (inner ear) to the brain and we hear sounds.

In otosclerosis, one of these three bones, the stirrup, or stapes bone, begins to fuse with the bone surrounding it. Eventually, the stapes bone becomes permanently fixed to the surrounding bone, meaning that sound waves can no longer vibrate it, and hearing is impaired.

The exact reason for this is still unknown, but there is thought to be a genetic link. This may mean that if a close relative has developed otosclerosis, you have a higher chance of also developing it.

How is otosclerosis diagnosed?

If your GP thinks you may have otosclerosis, they will refer you to a specialist ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor who will look inside your ears and test your heating. They may also organise for you to have a CT scan.

How is otosclerosis treated?

Mild otosclerosis is usually monitored by your specialist doctor to keep an eye on its progression. If your hearing loss becomes more severe or it’s affecting your quality of life, you may be offered a hearing aid.

Modern hearing aids are more discreet than those of the past, and some can even be worn invisibly inside the ear.

Surgery called a stapedectomy is also possible in cases of otosclerosis.  Part of the stapes bone is removed and replaced with an implant/prosthesis to improve hearing.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Mr Harry Powell  ›

Mr Harry Powell is an ENT Surgeon at King Edward VII’s Hospital.

Find your specialist in otosclerosis at King Edward VII's Hospital

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