Is Hearing Loss Genetic? What Are The Genetic Causes for Hearing Loss

When you hear something, your brain processes the sound and turns it into meaningful information. The sound, or the vibration of the eardrum, travels via the auditory nerve to the brain and then is interpreted.

A hearing loss occurs when the sound is not transmitted correctly through the ear and nerve to the brain or when the brain processes the sound incorrectly. Hearing loss is estimated to affect 42 million Americans. Hearing loss is estimated to affect 42 million Americans.

While there are many causes of hearing loss, we will discuss the genetic causes today.

Here's what you need to know:

What are Genetic Causes for Hearing Loss?

Genetic causes for hearing loss are any genetic mutation (or variation) that causes hearing loss. Genetic causes can be passed down from mother or father to child or can occur unexpectedly.

Types of Genetic Causes for Hearing Loss

Autosomal Dominant Inheritance

In many cases, a genetic mutation does not impact the fetus, and the child is born with normal hearing. This is called “dominant negative” inheritance. A mutated gene causes autosomal dominant inheritance on one of our 46 chromosomes -- not the X or Y chromosome, which determines our sex. This means that the child may have a 50% chance of getting the mutation from the affected parent.

Autosomal Recessive Inheritance 

The gene is the same type of mutation, but the child must inherit the mutation from both parents to be born with hearing loss. Some people are born with one hearing loss gene and one normal gene but do not show any signs of hearing loss.

Multifactoral Inheritance

This is a complicated situation where more than one gene is involved. In this case, all of the genes don't ever work, so the child has hearing loss. This is the least common of all the genetic causes of hearing loss.

While genetic inheritance is considered a cause of hearing loss, it is very difficult to determine if a specific child will develop a hearing loss. Women who have a genetic mutation that could cause hearing loss during their childbearing years can use genetic counseling to explain the risk and decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy.

It is important to remember that you do not need a family history of hearing loss or previous exposure to loud noise to develop hearing loss. The only way to get a hearing loss is to have a genetic mutation or exposure to loud noise.

Mitochondrial Inheritance

Mitochondria are the part of the cell that produces energy. An error in the mitochondrial DNA can lead to hearing loss, but usually, a fetus does not survive if the mitochondrial DNA is damaged. However, if a pregnancy occurs when both parents have a mitochondrial DNA error, the fetus may survive.

Spontaneous Mutations

Sometimes a new genetic mutation occurs when a sperm or egg divides to make a fetus. These may occur in the egg or sperm or the very earliest stages of development.

The Bottom Line

Hearing loss can occur due to genetic causes, but it is not always easy to determine if a child will receive a hearing loss inheritance. If you have a family history of hearing loss, or genetic mutation, you may want to speak with a genetic counselor. There are various genetic tests available to assess hearing loss risk.

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