The majority of folks with hearing loss in Reno can blame their condition on either noise or age. A decline in hearing ability isn’t inevitable the older you get, but it’s definitely more likely. An interesting new study recently identified the genes associated with age-related hearing loss, paving the way for better treatment solutions in the not-too-distant future.
The Effects of Age on Hearing
Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis as it is known medically, is the result of a lifetime of noise exposure. According to audiologists, we are constantly being inundated with background noise and often simply tune it out, but it can eventually take its toll, damaging the tiny hair cells in the cochlea that help us hear. There is no way to repair the cells or restore hearing; once it’s gone, that’s it.
How common is age-related hearing loss? About one in four individuals in Reno will have some form of hearing impairment by the time they turn 65. At age 75, hearing loss affects around 50 percent of people. Genetics can contribute to, or accelerate, the rate of loss.
This is why a recent study by researchers at King’s College in London have many in the hearing community excited. The results, published in the journal PLOS Biology, provide hope that a solution for treating – or possibly even preventing hearing loss associated with the natural aging process – may be found.
Lead researcher and neuroscientist Karen Steel was interested in looking at the underlying causes of progressive hearing loss, so she assembled a team to look at 1,200 mice, each with a specific gene mutation. Each mouse had their hearing tested while researchers examined the activity of brain cells responsible for processing sound in an attempt to detect even mild forms of hearing loss.
The team successfully identified 38 new genes linked to hearing loss. Considering this number represents only about three percent of the 1,211 genes tested in the mice, and the fact that there are tens of thousands of genes total, researchers estimate there may be 1,000 in all that are associated with hearing loss. Interestingly, in addition to the genes linked to age-related hearing loss, 10 were found that appear to maintain hearing during the aging process.
In summary, Steel says, “Our results tell us that there are a large number of genes involved in deafness…and many different types of abnormality of the auditory system that can lead to hearing loss.” This makes the possibility of developing a “one-size-fits-all” solution for treating hearing loss unlikely but could lead to better diagnostic tools for differentiating between different types of hearing problems. It’s possible that the identification and classification of genes that are responsible for early-onset hearing loss may one day help doctors take a proactive approach to treating age-related hearing loss.
If you have questions about protecting your hearing or would like more information on presbycusis, contact your Reno audiologist.