How common are hereditary health conditions?
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, where scientists mapped the entire human genome, healthcare professionals and researchers have learned a great deal about the critical role our genes play in what diseases and health conditions we get in our lifetimes.
From more common health conditions, like heart disease, to rarer diseases, like sickle cell disease or cystic fibrosis, hereditary health conditions are relatively common, and research over the last several decades has even identified hearing loss as a hereditary condition.
So, is hearing loss hereditary? Yes, but not all hearing loss is.
Hearing loss and genes: what’s the connection?
While noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss, your genes — more specifically, a mutation in your genes — can also make you more predisposed to hearing loss and deafness, either at birth or developed later in life.
One of the more common connections between genes and hearing loss is when individuals are born with a genetic mutation that causes deafness. This deafness can either be present right at the time of birth or develop over time, and there are two main types — nonsyndromic and syndromic — which identify whether the hearing loss is present due to another health disorder.
About 30% of deafness is syndromic, with some of the most common accompanying health issues being blindness or vision problems, balance disorders, or heart diseases.
But, not all hereditary hearing loss results in complete or even partial deafness. Some inherited genes may just make you more predisposed to developing hearing loss as an older adult.
And, with so many other health conditions being linked to hearing loss, even inheriting a gene that causes one of those comorbid conditions could lead to hearing loss. For example, diabetes can be hereditary, and hearing loss has been linked to diabetes.
It’s also important to note that there’s a difference between hereditary hearing loss and genetic hearing loss. Hereditary means a genetic mutation that was passed down from your parents when you were born and genetic means a genetic mutation that was not necessarily passed down but is instead developed later in life.
Because of this difference, all hereditary hearing loss is genetic, but not all genetic hearing loss is hereditary.
What genetic mutations are linked to hearing loss?
Researchers are discovering new genes that are linked to hearing loss all the time, and, as of 2022, 124 nonsyndromic hearing loss genes have been identified. Of those, a little less than half are autosomal dominant genes, which means that the gene mutation was inherited from just one parent, and more than half are autosomal recessive genes, meaning that the mutation was inherited from both parents.
How the gene was inherited is usually associated with the level of hearing loss and when that hearing loss develops. For example, most recessive nonsyndromic hearing loss genes result in more severe hearing loss or deafness and are often developed prelingually, or before speech is developed. On the other hand, most dominant nonsyndromic hearing loss genes result in postlingual (after the development of speech), progressive, and high-frequency hearing loss.
While patterns are certainly present with the different types of hereditary hearing loss, there are, of course, exceptions. Hearing loss is rarely experienced exactly the same across individuals, and that applies to the causes and types of hearing loss, too.
How do you treat hereditary hearing loss?
Hereditary or genetic hearing loss is treated in the same way as other types of hearing loss: with hearing aids or, for some specific and severe cases, surgery for cochlear implants.
If you know that hearing loss runs in your family, you should be proactive and start getting annual hearing tests sooner than you normally would. It’s recommended that every adult starts getting annual hearing exams at age 60, but if you’re predisposed to hearing loss, you should start those annual tests much earlier.
You should also be more conscious of any hearing loss symptoms you may experience, even though they may be harder to recognize at more mild levels. Hearing loss is often developed gradually, so it can be hard to detect major differences in your hearing ability from day to day, but being extra aware of the signs of hearing loss can make a big difference in treatment intervention.
It’s also important, whether you have hereditary hearing loss or not, to protect your hearing from sudden or prolonged exposure to loud noises, as it can only make your hearing loss worse in the long run. Always wear hearing protection in loud environments, like at music concerts or while watching fireworks, and keep your headphone volume at a safe level.
Early intervention is key for hereditary hearing loss
While some hearing loss can be passed on genetically through generations, not all cases of hearing loss are hereditary, and a thorough exam and hearing test is the best way to identify what’s causing your hearing loss and, more importantly, the best treatment for it.
While hearing loss is most prominent in the older adult population, anyone of any age can develop hearing loss or deafness, and you’re never too young for a hearing test and an exam, whether you’re experiencing symptoms or not.
If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to get in touch with a hearing care professional that can diagnose and treat it. Contact the team at Colorado Ear Care and schedule a hearing test today!