Genetic factors may significantly contribute to a person’s risk of suffering hearing loss in old age, according to new research.
The findings, by University of South Florida researchers, are being hailed as a major breakthrough in understanding and preventing hearing loss that affects about 30 million Americans and greatly diminishes their quality of life.
They 9-year study — a collaboration between USF’s Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology — identified the first genetic biomarker for age-related hearing loss (also known as presbycusis). The genetic defect carried by those who ultimately suffer from age-related hearing loss was also linked to speech problems in older people.
“This gene is the first genetic biomarker for human age-related hearing loss, meaning if you had certain configurations of this gene you would know that you are probably going to lose your hearing faster than someone who might have another configuration,” said Robert Frisina Jr., who helped conduct the study, published in the journal Hearing Research.
For the study, researchers tested the hearing of 687 people and also conducted genetic analyses and tests of their speech processing.
The researchers said the finding will allow doctors to identify people who have the gene, so they can take steps earlier in life to protect their hearing — such as avoiding loud noises, wearing ear protection, and avoiding drugs known to damage hearing.
“Age-related hearing loss is a very prevalent problem in our society. It costs billions of dollars every year to manage and deal with it. It’s right up there with heart disease and arthritis as far as being one of the top three chronic medical conditions of the aged,” Frisina added.