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Otosclerosis: How the Tiniest Bones in our Bodies can be Affected

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Broken down, the word otosclerosis is a derivative of two Greek words, “sclero,” meaning hard and “oto,” meaning ear. This term describes a condition based on the abnormal growth of the tiny bones found in the middle ear. When these tiny bones are adversely affected, it leads to a fixation of the stapes bone. In order for the ear to function properly and allow one to hear well, the stapes bone has to move freely.

For proper hearing, the sound vibrations that are brought from the outer ear into the ear canal cause the movement of the ear drum that then moves to the three smaller bones of the inner ear. These bones are called the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup, medically known as the malleus, the incus, and the stapes. When the stapes bone moves, the inner ear fluids are then put into motion, which begin the process of stimulating the hearing nerve. This nerve will then transfer the sound energy to the brain, allowing a person to hear what is known as sound. If any part of this process is compromised, then hearing can be impaired.

So, who can get otosclerosis, and why does it happen? Estimates show that roughly ten percent of the adult Caucasian population suffers from otosclerosis. It is less commonly seen those of Japanese ethnicity and in South Americans. It is also quite rare in the African-American segment of the population. The most commonly affected people are middle-aged, Caucasian women.

The defining symptom of this condition begins with a gradual hearing loss, which can start anywhere between the ages of 15 and 45, but it usually begins in one’s 20s. It can occur in both men and women and is a bigger issue for pregnant women who, for reasons not readily known, frequently suffer from a decrease in hearing ability. About 60 percent of otosclerosis cases are genetic in nature.

Other tell-tale symptoms include dizziness, problems with sustaining balance, and a ringing, roaring, buzzing, or hissing sensation in the ears or head, commonly referred to as tinnitus. Perhaps the individual might not be able to hear lower-pitched sounds or whispers.

To diagnose this condition, an examination by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat physician) is recommended. The doctor can rule out other potential causes of the symptoms. After an ear exam, a hearing test may be administered. The doctor will then provide treatment options based upon the results of the hearing test.

For mild hearing loss, the doctor may just suggest continued observation and even a hearing aid. In some cases, sodium fluoride may be prescribed, as it has been shown to slow down the progression of the condition. In many cases, a procedure known as a stapendectomy can be the most effective way of improving or even restoring one’s hearing.

A stapendectomy is done on an out-patient basis using an operating microscope inserted through the ear canal. No incisions are made on the outside. The stapes bone is removed and replaced with a prosthetic device. This device will in turn allow for the middle ear bones to resume their normal movement, stimulating the fluid in the inner ear to provide for improved or restored hearing.

Such procedures have been performed since 1956, recognizing a 90 percent success rate. In the rarest of instances, it might worsen the patient’s hearing. In eight out of ten patients, otosclerosis affects both ears. In such cases, the surgery will be performed on one ear at a time.

After returning home from a stapendectomy, the patient will probably be instructed to lie on the un-operated side of the body. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed. Dizziness may be a side effect for a couple of days post-surgery. Even one’s taste sensations may be altered for several weeks or even months after the procedure, eventually returning to normal. Patients may be told to refrain from nose blowing or swimming for a week or two.

After a stapendectomy, the doctor should be notified if the patient notices any sudden loss in hearing, intense pain, increased dizziness, or any new symptom related to the treated ear.

Packing is placed in the ear during surgery, so any improvement in hearing may not be recognized until it is removed about a week later. The ear drum heals quickly and can usually reach its peak level of improvement in just two weeks.

(Information for this article was found at http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/otosclerosis.cfm)

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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