The Role of Genes and Genetics in Hearing Loss

Certainly illness and injury can cause hearing loss, but can genetics also play a role? The answer to this question is “Yes.” Believe it or not, experts agree that most hearing loss is due to some form of genetic abnormality. In the developed world, hearing loss is regarded as the most frequent hereditary birth defect.

Genetics 101. Genes are essentially pieces of code that make up our DNA and tell our bodies how to function and how to look. Researchers have identified more than 100 genes that can impact hearing. If one or even more of these genes is altered or missing the result can often be hearing loss. When a person carrying these irregular gene sequences has a child, the abnormal gene or genes can be passed down to the child too.

Different kinds of genetic hearing loss. Hereditary hearing losses can originate from defects in the outer ear, inner ear or both areas. Depending on the particular cause, the ensuing hearing loss is classified as sensorineural, conductive or mixed (which is a combination of the two). Note that, genetic hearing loss can present itself at birth or later on in life. One of the more common disorders to affect hearing is Usher syndrome, a condition that is thought to afflict over 50% of deaf-blind individuals as reported by the National Institutes of Health. Waardenburg syndrome is another common disorder that affects hearing in the inner ear but also causes streaks of white hair, pale skin, and light-colored or multi-colored eyes.

Will kids automatically inherit hearing loss? While it is true that parents with hearing loss genes may pass them on to their kids, it does not necessarily imply that the children will have a hearing problem. The genes that cause hearing loss are typically recessive and therefore frequently don’t result in any outward symptoms because the child has inherited a normal copy from the other parent. It’s not uncommon for the children of hearing impaired parents to have normal hearing. Since there are hundreds of genes involved in hearing, it is much more likely than not that the parental hearing losses do not share exactly the same cause. For moms and dads concerned about a family history of hearing loss, genetic testing and counseling is available.

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