Everyone knows that injuries, noise exposure and certain diseases can lead to hearing loss, but are your genes involved? The basic response to this question is “Yes.” In fact, experts agree that most hearing loss is due to some kind of genetic irregularity. In the developed world, hearing loss is regarded as the most frequent hereditary birth defect.

Genetics 101. They way your body functions and looks is governed by the genetic code of your DNA – your genes. Over 100 distinct genes have been discovered that are associated with hearing loss. Hearing loss can result from any one of these genes being missing or modified. These abnormal gene codes are passed down through families from parents to their children.

Genetic hearing loss categories. Genetic hearing losses can stem from flaws in the outer ear, inner ear or both areas. Depending on the particular cause, the resulting hearing loss is classified as conductive, senorineural or mixed (which is a mixture of the two). Additionally, some genes may cause hearing loss before a person learns to speak (prelingual hearing loss), and other genes cause hearing problems that show up after speech is learned (postlingual hearing loss). One of the more common disorders to affect hearing is Usher syndrome, a condition that is believed to afflict over 50% of deaf-blind individuals according to the National Institutes of Health. Waardenburg syndrome is another common condition that affects hearing in the inner ear but also causes pale skin, a streak of white hair, and light or multi-colored eyes.

What’s the good news? Fortunately, hearing loss isn’t automatically passed from parent to child. The genes that contribute to hearing loss are typically recessive and therefore frequently don’t lead to any outward symptoms because the child has received a normal copy from the other parent. Because there are hundreds of distinct genes involved in hearing loss, even if both parents are hearing impaired, their kids may not be since the parent’s hearing loss could have different root causes. Families concerned with hereditary hearing loss can see a doctor for genetic testing that can help assess potential risks.

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