We all know that injuries, noise exposure and certain diseases can lead to hearing loss, but are your genes involved? Without a doubt, the answer is “Yes.” Genetic irregularities actually cause most forms of hearing loss. Furthermore, developmental experts consider genetic hearing loss to be the most common birth defect in developed countries.

DNA, genes and inheritance. Genes are essentially pieces of code that make up our DNA and tell our bodies what to do and how to look. Scientists have discovered over 100 genes that can impact hearing. If one or even more of these genes is altered or missing the result can often be hearing loss. When an individual carrying these irregular gene sequences has a child, the irregular gene or genes can be passed on to the child too.

Various kinds of genetic hearing loss. Inherited hearing loss can affect the inner ear, outer ear or both. Sensorineural, conductive or mixed hearing loss may result. The hearing loss doesn’t always start at birth. It might have a later onset after a child 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 prevalent hereditary condition is Waardenburg syndrome, a disorder in which hearing loss occurs in the inner ear but outer effects such as light skin, light eyes and a white streak of hair may be also be seen.

Will children automatically inherit hearing loss? Just because a parent has hearing loss, does not automatically mean the child will have hearing loss too. Genes which contribute to hearing loss are usually recessive. As long as the child receives a normal copy of the gene from one parent, their hearing should be normal. Because there are hundreds of distinct genes linked to hearing loss, even if both parents are hearing impaired, their kids may not be since the parent’s hearing loss could have different underlying causes. For people worried about a family history of hearing loss, genetic testing and counseling from an expert is suggested.