Certainly illness and injury can lead to hearing loss, but can genetics also play a role? The answer to this question is “Yes.” Believe it or not, industry professionals agree that most hearing loss is caused by some kind of genetic abnormality. Additionally, developmental experts consider genetic hearing loss to be the most frequently occurring birth defect in developed countries.

Genes, DNA & families. Genes are essentially pieces of code that make up our DNA and tell our bodies what to do and how to look. Hearing is a complex body function that is known to involve at least 100 different genes. Hearing loss may result from any one of these genes being missing or modified. These abnormal gene codes are passed down through families from parent to child.

Genetic hearing loss variations. Inherited hearing loss can affect the outer ear, inner ear or both. The hearing loss can be conductive, sensorineural or mixed. The hearing loss doesn’t necessarily start at birth. It could have a later onset after a toddler has learned to talk (postlingual hearing loss). One of the most common disorders to affect hearing is Usher syndrome, a condition that is believed to affect over 50% of deaf-blind individuals as reported by the National Institutes of Health. Another named disorder that includes hearing loss is Waardenburg syndrome. Distinguishing characteristics include streaks of white hair, pale skin and light or multi-colored eyes in addition to the hearing loss.

The good news about genetic hearing losses. While it’s true that parents with hearing loss genes may pass them on to their children, it does not necessarily imply that the children will have a hearing problem. The genes that cause hearing loss are usually recessive and therefore frequently don’t result in any outward symptoms because the child has received a normal copy from the other parent. Because there are hundreds of different genes linked to hearing loss, even if both parents are hearing impaired, their kids may not be since the parent’s hearing loss can have different underlying causes. Families concerned with genetic hearing loss can see a specialist for genetic testing that can help assess risks.