Can Age-related Hearing Loss Be Genetic?

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Can Age-related Hearing Loss Be Genetic?

Date of Content: May 1, 2024
Written by: Jess Gayo
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD



Hearing loss is often perceived as a natural consequence of aging, silently encroaching on the quality of life for millions worldwide. However, the consequences of age-related hearing loss (ARHL) extend far beyond mere inconvenience. Delving into the reasons behind this phenomenon reveals genetic predispositions, environmental influences, and physiological changes.

What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a multifaceted phenomenon influenced by various genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. At its core, hearing loss often stems from damage to the delicate structures within the inner ear responsible for detecting sound waves and transmitting them to the brain for interpretation. This damage can manifest in several ways.

Genetic predispositions play a significant role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to hearing loss. Research has identified numerous genes associated with hearing impairment, including those involved in the development and maintenance of crucial auditory structures like the hair cells and the cochlea. Variations in these genes can affect how effectively the inner ear functions, increasing the likelihood of hearing loss over time. Environmental factors also play a pivotal role in hearing health. 

The aging process itself contributes to hearing loss, a condition known as presbycusis. As individuals grow older, the structures within the inner ear naturally deteriorate, leading to a decline in hearing acuity. This age-related decline is often compounded by genetic predispositions and environmental exposures, highlighting the complex interplay of factors influencing hearing health.

Age-related hearing loss

When Does Age-related Hearing Loss Usually Start?

Age-related hearing loss typically begins to manifest in individuals as they enter their 40s or 50s, although the effects may not become noticeable until later in life. Research indicates that the prevalence of age-related hearing loss increases with advancing age, with a significant rise observed after the age of 65. By the age of 75, approximately half of all individuals experience some degree of hearing impairment.

The gradual onset of age-related hearing loss is often attributed to a combination of genetic predispositions and cumulative exposure to environmental factors over time.

Is Age-related Hearing Loss Genetic?

A 2014 study investigated the genetics behind age-related hearing loss by analyzing data from different groups of people across Europe and Asia. They looked at over 2 million genetic variations in nearly 5,000 individuals and found that a specific gene, called salt-inducible kinase 3 (SIK3), was linked to hearing ability. This gene was particularly associated with how well people could hear different pitches of sound.

Further studies on mice showed that the mouse Sik3 gene is expressed in the cells of the inner ear during both early development and adulthood. This suggests that the SIK3 kinase may play a role in the development and maintenance of hearing throughout life.

This study found that that one genetic variant, the SNP rs681524 in the SIK3 gene seems to influence how well people can hear as they get older. Understanding the role of this genetic variant could help scientists develop new treatments for age-related hearing loss in the future.

To uncover more about the genetic factors behind ARHL, a 2019 research revealed data from over 250,000 volunteers aged 40 to 69. They found 44 specific genetic regions linked to hearing loss including genes ​​EYA4, TRIOBP, ARHGEF28, NID2, and CTBP2. Interestingly, 34 of these regions were newly discovered, shedding light on previously unknown factors contributing to hearing loss.

These genetic regions are related to various aspects of hearing, such as how the inner ear works and how the brain processes sound. Surprisingly, some of these genetic regions were also linked to personality traits and psychological characteristics for the first time. This research opens up new avenues for developing treatments for age-related hearing loss and highlights the importance of genetic factors in understanding the condition.

What Other Factors Can Influence Age-related Hearing Loss?

Environmental factors play a significant role in influencing age-related hearing loss, contributing to its onset and progression alongside genetic predispositions. Understanding these environmental influences is crucial for individuals seeking to protect their hearing health as they age. Here are several key environmental factors that can affect age-related hearing loss:

  1. Noise Exposure: Prolonged exposure to loud noises is one of the most significant environmental risk factors for hearing loss. Occupational noise, such as machinery or construction work, and recreational activities like attending concerts or using personal listening devices at high volumes can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear over time. The intensity and duration of noise exposure play crucial roles in determining the extent of hearing damage.
  2. Ototoxic Chemicals: Certain chemicals and medications have been identified as ototoxic, meaning they can damage the auditory system and contribute to hearing loss. Common ototoxic substances include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and heavy metals like lead and mercury. These substances can disrupt the function of hair cells in the inner ear or damage the auditory nerve, leading to hearing impairment.
  3. Smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of hearing loss. The toxins in cigarette smoke can restrict blood flow to the inner ear, depriving it of essential nutrients and oxygen. This diminished blood flow can accelerate the degeneration of auditory structures and contribute to age-related hearing loss. Additionally, smoking is associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, which further exacerbates the risk of hearing impairment.
  4. Cardiovascular Health: Poor cardiovascular health is a significant risk factor for age-related hearing loss. Conditions such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, and diabetes can compromise blood flow to the inner ear, impairing its function and leading to hearing impairment. Maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and managing risk factors like high blood pressure can help preserve hearing health as individuals age.
  5. Diet and Nutrition: Certain dietary factors may influence the risk of age-related hearing loss. Research suggests that diets high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E may help protect against hearing loss by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the auditory system. Conversely, diets high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and processed foods may contribute to vascular damage and increase the risk of hearing impairment.
  6. Exposure to Environmental Toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals may also contribute to age-related hearing loss. These toxins can accumulate in the body over time and disrupt cellular function in the auditory system, leading to hearing impairment. Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins through proper safety measures and pollution control efforts can help mitigate this risk.

Environmental factors play a significant role in influencing age-related hearing loss, interacting with genetic predispositions to impact auditory health. By understanding and addressing these environmental influences, individuals can take proactive steps to protect their hearing as they age, leading to improved quality of life and well-being.

What are the Types of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss can be categorized into several distinct types, each with its own underlying causes and characteristics. The main types of hearing loss include:

  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear or the auditory nerve pathways that transmit sound signals to the brain. This type of hearing loss is typically permanent and can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, genetic predispositions, exposure to loud noises, ototoxic medications, and certain medical conditions like Meniere’s disease.
  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Conductive hearing loss occurs when there is a blockage or damage in the outer or middle ear that prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss include ear infections, wax buildup, fluid accumulation in the middle ear, perforated eardrum, or abnormalities in the ear canal or middle ear bones. Conductive hearing loss can often be treated medically or surgically, depending on the underlying cause.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss: Mixed hearing loss is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, involving both damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve and obstruction or dysfunction in the outer or middle ear. This type of hearing loss requires a comprehensive evaluation and may involve a combination of medical, surgical, and rehabilitative interventions to address both components.

Understanding the type of hearing loss an individual is experiencing is essential for determining the most appropriate treatment and management strategies. By identifying the underlying causes and characteristics of hearing loss, individuals can work with healthcare professionals to develop personalized plans to preserve and optimize their auditory function.

Can Age-related Hearing Loss or Presbycusis Impact Mental Health?

Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, can have a significant impact on mental health. Research has shown a strong association between hearing loss and various cognitive and emotional issues, including depression, social isolation, and cognitive decline. 

The strain of struggling to hear and communicate effectively can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and low self-esteem, particularly in social settings. Social isolation often follows, as individuals may withdraw from social activities and interactions due to difficulties understanding conversations and feeling embarrassed or misunderstood.

Furthermore, untreated hearing loss has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. The cognitive load of trying to compensate for hearing difficulties may detract from cognitive resources available for other tasks, potentially contributing to cognitive impairment over time.

Addressing age-related hearing loss through early intervention, such as hearing aids or assistive listening devices, can help mitigate these negative effects on mental health. By improving communication abilities and enhancing social engagement, individuals with presbycusis can maintain their mental well-being and overall quality of life as they age.

What are the Symptoms of Age-related Hearing Loss?

Age-related hearing loss manifests gradually over time and can vary in severity among individuals. Common symptoms of age-related hearing loss include:

  • Difficulty Understanding Speech: Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments or when multiple people are talking, is a hallmark symptom of age-related hearing loss. Individuals may find themselves frequently asking others to repeat themselves or misunderstanding conversations.
  • Muffled or Distorted Sound Perception: Sounds may appear muffled or distorted to individuals with age-related hearing loss. This can affect their ability to perceive and interpret various auditory cues accurately.
  • Difficulty Hearing High-Frequency Sounds: Age-related hearing loss often initially affects the ability to hear high-frequency sounds, such as the chirping of birds or the ringing of a telephone. As the condition progresses, it may also impact lower-frequency sounds.
  • Increasing Volume on Electronic Devices: Individuals with age-related hearing loss may find themselves needing to increase the volume on televisions, radios, or electronic devices to hear adequately.
  • Tinnitus: Tinnitus, or ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ears, is commonly associated with age-related hearing loss. It may occur intermittently or persistently and can worsen in quiet environments.
  • Social Withdrawal: Struggling to hear and understand conversations can lead to frustration and embarrassment, prompting individuals to withdraw from social activities and interactions.
  • Fatigue and Stress: The effort required to concentrate and decipher speech can be mentally exhausting, leading to increased feelings of fatigue and stress, especially after prolonged social interactions.

Recognizing these symptoms is essential for early intervention and management of age-related hearing loss. Seeking professional evaluation and hearing assessments can help individuals address their hearing concerns and improve their overall quality of life.

Ways to Reduce Potential of Age-related Hearing Loss

Protecting hearing is essential for maintaining overall well-being, especially as individuals age. Fortunately, several strategies can help reduce the potential for age-related hearing loss. Here are some evidence-based approaches:

Minimize Exposure to Loud Noise

Limiting exposure to loud noises is one of the most effective ways to prevent hearing loss. Individuals should avoid prolonged exposure to noisy environments, such as concerts, construction sites, or loud machinery. When exposure to loud noise is unavoidable, wearing ear protection such as earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help reduce the risk of damage to the inner ear.

Use Hearing Protection

In situations where exposure to loud noise is unavoidable, wearing hearing protection devices can significantly reduce the risk of hearing damage. Earplugs and earmuffs are effective at blocking out harmful noise levels while still allowing individuals to hear essential sounds, such as conversations or alarms.

Monitor Volume Levels

When listening to music or watching television, individuals should be mindful of the volume levels. Keeping the volume at a moderate level and taking breaks to give the ears a rest can help prevent overexposure to loud sounds and reduce the risk of hearing loss over time.

Maintain Cardiovascular Health

Research has shown a strong link between cardiovascular health and hearing health. Individuals should strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, managing stress, and avoiding smoking. These lifestyle habits can help improve blood flow to the inner ear and reduce the risk of age-related hearing loss.

Manage Chronic Conditions

Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol can increase the risk of hearing loss. Managing these conditions through medication, lifestyle changes, and regular medical check-ups can help prevent or delay the onset of age-related hearing loss.

Limit Ototoxic Medications

Some medications, including certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), have been associated with hearing loss. Individuals should consult with their healthcare provider about the potential ototoxic effects of medications and explore alternative treatment options whenever possible.

Protect Against Head Trauma

Head injuries can damage the delicate structures of the inner ear and lead to hearing loss. Taking precautions to prevent head trauma, such as wearing helmets during sports or using seat belts while driving, can help protect hearing health.

Get Regular Hearing Screenings

Regular hearing screenings are essential for detecting hearing loss early and implementing appropriate interventions. Adults should undergo hearing evaluations as part of their routine healthcare appointments, especially as they age or if they notice changes in their hearing abilities.

Stay Engaged Socially

Social isolation has been linked to an increased risk of age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline. Staying socially active and engaged can help stimulate the brain and preserve auditory function. Participating in social activities, joining clubs or organizations, and maintaining close relationships with family and friends can all contribute to overall hearing health.

By incorporating these strategies into their daily lives, individuals can take proactive steps to reduce the potential for age-related hearing loss and preserve their hearing as they age.

LifeDNA’s Age-Related Hearing Loss Trait Report

Unlock the secrets of your genetic blueprint with LifeDNA’s report on Age-related Hearing Loss. Designed to provide valuable insights into your predisposition to age-related hearing loss, this comprehensive report empowers you to take control of your hearing health like never before.

Our scientifically backed report delves deep into your unique genetic profile, uncovering key genetic markers associated with age-related hearing loss. By understanding your genetic predispositions, you can make informed decisions about your lifestyle, habits, and nutrition to support optimal hearing health as you age.

At LifeDNA, we believe that nutrition and lifestyle plays a crucial role in overall wellness, including hearing health. That’s why our report on Age-related Hearing Loss doesn’t just stop at genetics – it also provides personalized recommendations tailored to your individual needs. Whether it’s incorporating specific nutrients known to support auditory function or implementing lifestyle changes to protect against environmental factors, our report equips you with the knowledge you need to thrive.

But that’s not all – with over 200 trait reports available across our Wellness, Vitamins and Supplements, Fitness, Personality and Cognition, Sleep, and Skincare categories, LifeDNA offers a comprehensive approach to wellness that goes beyond just genetics. Plus, with premium reports like the Aging Report and Methylation Genes Report, you can gain deeper insights into specific aspects of your health.

Take the first step towards a healthier, happier you today. Avail of LifeDNA’s plans and start your wellness journey with confidence. Your genetic roadmap awaits – uncover the possibilities and embrace your best self with LifeDNA.


  • Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is common among older adults, affecting about one-third of individuals by the age of 65.
  • Hearing loss can stem from genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and physiological changes within the inner ear.
  • ARHL typically starts to manifest in individuals in their 40s or 50s, with prevalence increasing significantly after the age of 65.
  • Genetic studies have identified specific genes, such as salt-inducible kinase 3 (SIK3), associated with age-related hearing loss.
  • Environmental factors like noise exposure, ototoxic chemicals, smoking, poor cardiovascular health, and diet can also influence age-related hearing loss.
  • Understanding the different types of hearing loss, including sensorineural, conductive, and mixed, is crucial for effective management and treatment.
  • Age-related hearing loss can impact mental health, leading to social isolation, depression, and cognitive decline.
  • Recognizing symptoms like difficulty understanding speech, muffled sound perception and tinnitus is essential for early intervention.
  • Strategies to reduce the potential for age-related hearing loss include minimizing exposure to loud noise, using hearing protection, monitoring volume levels, maintaining cardiovascular health, managing chronic conditions, limiting ototoxic medications, protecting against head trauma, getting regular hearing screenings, and staying socially engaged.



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

Our reports and suggestions do not diagnose or treat any health conditions or provide any medical advice. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any major lifestyle changes or if you have any other concerns about your results.