Age-Related Genes for Hearing Loss Discovered

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is the most common cause of hearing impairment in San Diego. Unfortunately, a lifetime of noise exposure takes its toll on hearing. A recent study uncovered information on the genes responsible for age-related hearing loss, results that might someday lead to early intervention, mitigating the long-term effects of this physical condition.

How Aging Contributes to Hearing Loss

older woman riding a bike

Hearing loss is a widespread problem, not only in California but across the U.S.; about one in five individuals suffers from impaired hearing in San Diego. These numbers increase with age; 25 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, and by age 75, that figure jumps to about one in three.

Prevention certainly helps, often delaying the onset and severity of hearing loss, but it isn’t completely avoidable. We are exposed to noise constantly, and over the years, the nerve cells of the inner ear that are responsible for processing sounds experience gradual decay as a result. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot be repaired. Genetics can often play a role, as well.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to a wide range of physical, social and psychological health issues. Patients have an increased likelihood of experiencing stress, fatigue, isolation, depression, memory loss, dementia, diabetes, kidney disorders and falls.

A study published in the journal PLOS Biology could potentially lead to a better understanding of the mechanics behind age-related hearing loss. Researchers at King’s College in London examined 1,200 mice, each with a different gene mutation, to see the effects genes might play on the brain’s ability to process sound. Led by neuroscientist Karen Steel, the group was able to successfully identify 38 new genes that were responsible for hearing loss, as well as 10 genes that appeared to offer some protection against hearing impairment. Extrapolating this data, the team believes there are about 1,000 genes in total that are associated with hearing loss.

Steel believes the sheer number of genes that may contribute to hearing loss makes a one-size-fits-all treatment approach next to impossible. “Our results tell us that there are a large number of genes involved in deafness,” she says, “and many different types of abnormality of the auditory system that can lead to hearing loss.” However, she is encouraged that developing better diagnostic tools will help doctors better distinguish between different types of hearing loss. And by identifying and classifying the genes that are associated with early-onset hearing loss, health professionals might one day be able to proactively treat hearing loss – and maybe even prevent it.

If you would like tips on identifying the signs of age-related hearing loss, your San Diego audiologist is happy to talk with you.

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