Many of us consider it a compliment when we are told we have our mom’s eyes or our dad’s chin. But when we inherit less-than-desirable features, those smiles turn to frowns.
Physical features aren’t the only traits that can be passed down through the generations.
If you have hearing loss in Havertown, it’s possible you can blame your relatives for that, too.
The Link Between Genetics & Health
Genes are responsible for not only a shared physical resemblance with family members, but many aspects of our health, as well. Thanks to DNA, medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes often run in the family. It turns out that genes also play a role in a condition called presbycusis—more commonly referred to as age-related hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition in older Americans, trailing only arthritis and heart disease. It is estimated that 25 to 40 percent of individuals aged 65 and older experience presbycusis to some degree. By the age of 75, that number rises to 40 to 66 percent. For those with a family history of hearing loss, the risks are even greater.
Do genetics play a role in age-related hearing loss?
A study of 3,510 people found that genetic factors play a significant role in age-related hearing loss. Close attention was paid to familial relationships among participants, and some clear patterns emerged.
While men overall have higher incidences of hearing loss, it turns out that women were more likely to develop hearing loss as a result of genetics—possibly because the higher numbers in men could be attributed to noisy occupations in traditionally male-dominated industries.
In any case, hereditary increased the risk of age-related hearing loss by around 50 percent, and siblings of an affected relative were 30 percent more likely to suffer from presbycusis.
While telling, studies like these are plagued by difficulties ruling out other factors—most notably noise exposure, which tends to be the #1 cause of hearing loss. Because many families work in the same jobs or have similar listening habits, it’s unclear just how much of their hearing loss can be attributed to genes versus behavior. It’s safe to say the effects are a combination of both.
Are other types of hearing loss related to genetics?
While it’s hard to pin down just how influential genes are on age-related hearing loss, other types of hearing loss are clearly hereditary. Disorders with a strong genetic component include:
- Otosclerosis. This disorder, characterized by abnormal bone growth in the middle ear, can lead to conductive hearing loss (typically affecting lower frequencies), tinnitus and dizziness. Children with one parent who has otosclerosis have a 25 percent chance of developing the disease. When both parents are affected, the risk is 50 percent. This type of hearing impairment can often be corrected with surgery.
- Usher syndrome. This disorder, which causes both hearing loss and an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), is responsible for half of all hereditary deaf-blindness cases. There are three types of Usher syndrome, all inherited from autosomal recessive genes. Type 1 causes profound hearing loss and severe balance problems at birth; Type 2 causes moderate to severe hearing loss at birth and usually leads to RP in late adolescence; and those with Type 3 are born with normal hearing and balance, but hearing loss and vision develop in adolescence. There is no cure, but hearing aids or cochlear implants can help.
- Pendred syndrome. This genetic disorder causes childhood hearing loss and may also lead to thyroid disease and balance problems. Pendred syndrome is responsible for 5 to 10 percent of all inherited hearing loss. Families with a history of early-onset hearing loss or goiters may carry the mutated gene that causes this recessive trait. There is no cure, but the condition can be treated with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
There is no way to prevent inherited hearing disorders, but an awareness of your family history can help reduce your risk of developing one. Your Havertown doctor or audiologist can make routine hearing screenings a regular part of your health care regimen, enabling early detection. Additionally, adopting a healthy lifestyle can help. Try eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise and avoiding smoking.
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