Does Hearing Loss Run in Your Family?

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family, be grateful for everything you have, and eat a lot of food. It's also a great time to talk about your family’s health history and genetic conditions that can be passed down, like hearing loss.

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family, be grateful for everything you have, and eat a lot of food. But in between enjoying turkey and stuffing and getting into political arguments with your uncle, it may be a good idea to talk about your family’s health history. That’s the idea behind the U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative, which encourages people to spend part of their Thanksgiving holiday learning about the health conditions that run in their families in order to be proactive in protecting their health.

It’s all in the genes

While some diseases are known to be hereditary like certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, you may be surprised to learn that hearing loss can also be genetic. In fact, between 50 and 60 percent of hearing loss in babies is due to hereditary causes. Still, genetic hearing loss doesn’t always show up at birth; if you’re genetically predisposed, hearing loss can affect you at any time. Therefore, it’s important to understand the genetic causes of hearing loss, whether it runs in your family, and how you may be affected.

Hereditary hearing loss is caused by mutated genes passed down from parents to their children. These altered genes contribute to hearing loss by interfering with how sound is processed. But just because your parents have hearing loss doesn’t mean that you will automatically get it, too. You could be a carrier and pass the genes onto your children without having hearing loss yourself.

At the same time there are other medical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, that are hereditary and known to cause hearing loss as a symptom or outcome. So, even if hearing loss itself doesn’t run in your family, your hearing health can still be affected if one of these other conditions do. As a result, it’s in your best interest to identify all health conditions that may be passed down genetically.

Understanding your family health

Mapping out your family history will give you a better idea of how your genetic makeup can affect your health. By doing so, you can be proactive and get yourself tested for hearing loss or any other medical condition that runs in your family. So, spend some time this Thanksgiving figuring out the health conditions that could be in your genes – your hearing and overall health may depend on it.

To help keep track of your family health history, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers a My Family Health Portrait Web tool, available at: https://www.hhs.gov/programs/prevention-and-wellness/family-health-history/family-health-portrait-tool/index.html.