For expecting mothers, there are few things as exciting as preparing for life with your new addition. But along with the joys and anticipation of pregnancy, numerous changes happen to your body and new concerns about your health can arise. One of those is hearing loss. If you have otosclerosis, pregnancy can accelerate its effects, further damage your hearing, and even cause tinnitus.
What is otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis is a condition characterized by abnormal growth of the tiny bones in the middle ear: the malleus, incus, and stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup). These bones play a key role in how we hear. When sounds cause these bones to vibrate, the vibrations stimulate the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that then carry sound through the auditory nerve to the brain for processing. However, with otosclerosis, these bones that typically move freely experience abnormal growth that prevents them from vibrating and conducting sound. Since otosclerosis limits this necessary process it can lead to hearing loss.
How pregnancy affects otosclerosis
Otosclerosis is known to affect Caucasian women more than any other demographic. While the condition typically manifests between the ages of 15 and 45, many women start to experience its symptoms in their early 20s. Research suggests that hearing loss caused by otosclerosis can occur more rapidly when pregnant. One study found that pregnant women with otosclerosis in both ears were 33 percent more likely to experience a subjective deterioration of their hearing after one pregnancy. The risk of hearing damage can increase with additional pregnancies.
What you can do to protect your hearing
If you have otosclerosis, the risk of hearing issues shouldn’t discourage you from having kids. And if you already have the condition and are pregnant, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will lose any or all your hearing. Still, it’s important to know the concerns and possible treatment options.
One solution is to be fitted with hearing aids as soon as you receive a hearing loss diagnosis. Since otosclerosis rarely causes total deafness, hearing aids are a safe and simple option. While they won’t address the underlying cause of otosclerosis, they will help you hear better. A more invasive option is a surgical procedure known as a stapedectomy. Through this operation, the stapes bone is removed, and a prosthetic device is inserted in its place. The prosthetic enables the mechanisms in the ear to move freely and vibrate, allowing the inner ear to transmit sound properly once again.
When expecting, it’s important to focus on your baby’s health and your own—ears included. If you have otosclerosis, make sure to talk about it and the potential effects with both your hearing care professional and OB/GYN. This will help you maintain your hearing health throughout your pregnancy and determine if any treatment is needed during or afterwards.