Otosclerosis: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

In this lesson, we'll learn about otosclerosis, a condition affecting hearing. Read more to find out what causes it, what the symptoms are, and how to treat otosclerosis.

Oto-what? What is Otosclerosis?

One day, Katie is out running errands when she suddenly gets dizzy. She sits down for a bit and the feeling passes. A week later, she starts to hear ringing in her ears and the dizziness comes back. What is going on? One possibility could be otosclerosis. Otosclerosis affects the inner and middle part of the ear. Instead of the bones in this area remaining flexible, which happens in an unaffected ear, the bones of an individual with otosclerosis actually fuse together and become immobile, stunting their ability to transmit sound. The condition may start with mild hearing loss but it can gradually get worse over time, and it is usually inherited.

Anyone can get otosclerosis, though it is not common in the African-American population. In general, this condition is also less common in males compared to females, who are two times more susceptible. Interestingly, in women the condition is often apparent around the time of pregnancy. Individals of Caucausian and Oriental ethnicities are also more likely to develop the condition. Additionally, it has been hypothesized that individuals may develop otosclerosis as a result of certain viral infections.

A visual depiction of the malformed bones that cause otosclerosis in the ear (shown in pink)

Symptoms of Otosclerosis

Katie already experienced a few of these symptoms. The most common symptom of otosclerosis is hearing loss. It may be mild at first but slowly gets worse over time, and it often starts between the ages of ten and thirty. Katie is 22, so she falls in this age range. The initial stage of the disease is called otospongiosis, and during this time the bones are remodeling themselves. Typically, hearing loss occurs in both ears, though in some cases it may only appear in a single ear. A person with otosclerosis may also hear ringing in the ears (this is called tinnitus) and experience dizziness or vertigo. Without treatment, otosclerosis will worsen as time passes.

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