An inherited bone disorder capable of interrupting the way the ear amplifies sound, and thus causing hearing loss, otosclerosis affects nearly three million Americans. While we know what happens to the middle ear as a result of otosclerosis, we don’t know exactly what causes it. The medical community believes it is a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors that act as triggers.

What exactly is otosclerosis?

There is a small bone in your middle ear shaped like a stirrup called the ‘stapes,’ which is involved in processing sound vibrations between the middle and inner ear. When this bone grows abnormally or gets stuck in place, a person’s hearing can become impaired.

How can it affect hearing?

The middle ear is made up of three of the tiniest bones in the body. Aside the malleus (hammer) and incus (anvil), the stapes (stirrup) is the smallest — the size of a grain of rice. If the stapes ceases to vibrate, conductive hearing loss can occur. Otosclerosis is the process of abnormal bone growth around the stapes, which hardens and scars the area, leading to immobility of the bone.

The link between otosclerosis and pregnancy?

Like otosclerosis in general, though the link between pregnancy and the disorder is a bit of a mystery still, research has shown that otosclerosis, and associated hearing loss, may occur more rapidly in pregnancy, particularly in Caucasian women. In one study of women with otosclerosis in both ears, researchers found that pregnancy increases the likelihood of hearing deterioration by 33 percent after one pregnancy, and increases with each subsequent pregnancy.

How can it be treated?

With the hallmark of otosclerosis being a slow progression of hearing loss, and rarely ending in complete deafness, there are a number of ways to treat the disorder, from a watch-and-wait strategy to better judge when to intervene, to dietary supplements like sodium fluoride or even an invasive survery option to replace the stapes. Outside of that, the best way to manage hearing loss from otosclerosis at any stage is with hearing aids, programmed specifically to a patient’s individual hearing needs by their audiologist.

Dr. Andrea Livingston can be contacted at 863-386-9111.