Not all hearing loss is related to age or noise; while these are both common problems, being a white, middle-aged woman perhaps places you at an increased risk of a condition called otosclerosis.
What Is Otosclerosis?
Otoscelrosis is a hearing impairment caused by abnormal remodeling of bone in the middle ear.
Contrary to what you might assume, bone is actually a very active substance which is constantly remodelled in order to stay in good condition. This is one reason we need a healthy diet, to provide adequate calcium for those on-going repairs to bone.
However, in otosclerosis the process of replacing old bone with new goes awry. This results in the small bones in the middle ear fusing together. Their delicate hinge arrangement is supposed to transfer the vibration of the eardrum to the inner ear. When these tiny bones can’t move against one another, this system no longer works properly.
The Symptoms of Otosclerosis
The signs usually develop slowly over time and include difficulty hearing. Perhaps you struggle to hear quiet noises or whispering. Also, people with otosclerosis may experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or experience bouts of poor balance or dizziness.
The Causes of Otosclerosis
White, middle-aged women are over-represented when it comes to the numbers of people experiencing otosclerosis, and this has led researchers to believe there may be a genetic link to the condition.
The exact mechanism behind the condition is not fully understood, but scientists have several theories. These include measles infection in younger life causing microscopic fractures in the bony chamber around the middle and inner ear, or an immune disorder. In the latter, researchers believe a combination of three chemical messengers, or cytokines, are necessary for healthy bone remodelling. They suspect that people with otosclerosis have an imbalance in these three cytokines, which leads to the faulty remodelling.
Reaching a Diagnosis
A combination of tests is necessary to reach a diagnosis. Your audiologist, or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist can run these tests, which include a hearing test or audiogram, and will also look to rule out other problems which can cause similar symptoms. In addition they will run a tympanogram which measures the middle ear’s ability to admit sound through the hearing system. Some patients may also benefit from a CT scan, which gives a picture of the small chambers embedded in the skull that contribute to the hearing mechanism.
What is the Treatment?
People with mild otosclerosis benefit from the help of a hearing device. For those more severely affected, surgery may be required to place a prosthesis which bypasses the faulty mechanism of the middle ear.
If your hearing isn’t all that it should be, then your first step to correcting the problem is a hearing test. With those results, your audiologist can advise you as to the next steps to get you hearing better.