Can hearing loss be coded into your genes? Quite simply, the answer is “Yes.” In fact, 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 basically bits of code that make up our DNA and tell our bodies how to function and how to look. Researchers have discovered over 100 genes that can negatively affect hearing. Hearing loss can result from any one of these genes being absent or modified. Parent genes are passed to children, so any abnormal gene sequences which cause hearing loss are handed down.

Categories of genetic hearing loss. Inherited hearing loss can affect the outer ear, inner ear or both. The hearing loss can be sensorineural, conductive or mixed. Besides that, some genes result in hearing loss before a child learns to talk (prelingual hearing loss), and other genes cause hearing problems that appear after speech is learned (postlingual hearing loss). One of the more common conditions to affect hearing is Usher syndrome, a condition that is believed to affect over half of deaf-blind individuals as reported by the National Institutes of Health. Waardenburg syndrome is another common disorder that affects hearing in the inner ear but also causes pale skin, a streak of white hair, and light or multi-colored eyes.

What’s the good news? Fortunately, hearing loss is not automatically passed from parent to child. The genes that contribute to hearing loss are typically recessive and therefore often don’t lead to any outward symptoms because the child has received a normal copy from the other parent. It is not unusual for the children of hearing impaired parents to have normal hearing. Since there are hundreds of genes associated with hearing, it is much more likely than not that the parental hearing losses don’t share the same cause. Individuals concerned with hereditary hearing loss can see a doctor for genetic testing that can help identify risks.