Hearing loss not only has a variety of symptoms and presentations, but also a variety of causes. Damage to the auditory system or inherited hearing loss can occur before birth, in childhood and in adulthood, and it can take some medical sleuthing to figure out its provenance. Read on to learn more about the genetics of hearing loss and how it can play out.
Hearing loss in newborns is attributed to genetics 60-80% of the time. Sometimes it is a stand-alone condition, independent of other birth defects or health concerns, and other times it is associated with a syndrome or a constellation of correlated conditions. One or both parents can be genetic carriers of hearing loss, meaning they do not experience the condition themselves, so it is not always plain to see the origin of genetic hearing loss. Even if there is no known family history of hearing loss, the condition can still be genetic.
Babies hear quite clearly in the womb and at birth, so they are screened for hearing loss before they even leave the hospital. Early intervention to treat hearing loss is important to children’s development and well-being, so it’s important to get this screening early on.
While genetic hearing loss in children is most often congenital, meaning sustained before birth, it can also be progressive, meaning it develops in older children. If you notice that your older child seems inattentive to sound, doesn’t respond to their name, or exhibits difficulty speaking, it is important to alert their doctor right away.
Causes of age-related hearing loss are thought to be 35-55% genetic, and inherited variations in multiple genes can influence when hearing loss begins as well as its severity. Since environment and factors also play roles in age-based hearing loss, untangling the causes is complicated and not all of the contributing factors are always identifiable.
While the complexities of aged-based hearing loss are such that there is not always a direct link between your aging parents’ hearing loss and your own, it is important to secure a family history of all illness and age-based health changes in order to anticipate changes to your own health and auditory wellness
Congenital hearing loss is often subject to genetic testing, but it is becoming increasingly common in cases of adult progressive hearing loss, as well. Genetic tests can identify changes in a patient’s genetic material that are associated with hearing loss. In some cases, therapies can then be directed at specific gene mutations.
No matter what the suspected causes or manifestations of your or your child’s hearing loss, it is critical to have it looked into right away. Audiology and genetic research have come a long way, and your family doctor can start you on the path to finding the right specialists.