The field of genetics is growing like wildfire. The headlines about it often sound like science fiction, with new findings and uses that most of us could never have imagined just a few decades ago. It’s far beyond the probability of eye or hair color. Genetics and genetic testing can help us understand or risk for heart disease and cancer, the best eating patterns for our unique health, inefficiencies in physiological processes, and even risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss and your genetics
Noise-induced hearing loss, an often preventable form of hearing loss, generally develops slowly over time thanks to ongoing exposure to loud noise or as a result of sudden exceptionally loud noises.
Researchers estimate that approximately 10 million adults and 5.2 million children in the US have irreversible noise-induced hearing loss, and thirty million more are at risk. It may be the noise of everyday life such as traffic, on-the-job noise, or simply a love of loud music or other recreational pastimes, but those in the hearing health field are now finding that genetics could also play a role in noise-induced hearing loss.
Experts in genetics have continued to map genes involved in hearing, finding thousands of gene expressions that impact hearing health. These unique expressions may cause age-related hearing loss, deafness from birth, or make us more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss as we age.
The most recent findings have identified 34 genes that may specifically contribute to noise-induced hearing loss. Experts believe that these genes play very important roles in everything from the building blocks of the crucial hair cells of the inner ear to oxidative stress response in the inner workings of the ear to the physiological processes of the ear. Many of the genes have been found also to manage other genes and even communication between cells.
Researchers continue to study the role of these genes in susceptibility of noise-induced hearing loss, working with both human and animal subjects to glean the most comprehensive and accurate information in the hopes of someday preventing or even curing this wide-spread condition. This may sound like another dose of science fiction, but similar research indicates that something like this may be available sooner than we think.
Preventing noise-induced hearing loss
As with other genes and genetic expressions, those linked to hearing loss are often, at least to some extent, within our control. Taking steps to reduce your risk of noise-induced hearing loss can make all the difference, despite what your genetic map says. Here’s how:
Be mindful of decibel levels – Around the world, there is currently much debate as to how many decibels are too many decibels. Some say 85 decibels is safe, some say 70, and some say anything over 55 decibels can do damage over the long term. Whenever possible, stick to 55 and under to be safe. Here are some examples of common sounds and where they register in decibels:
Refrigerator = 50 decibels
Washing machine = 70 decibels
An MP3 player at maximum volume = 105 decibels
Use hearing protection – Earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, and other hearing protection can help to reduce your exposure to noise.
Get regular hearing evaluations – Noise-induced hearing loss is often so gradual it is hard to detect without a professional evaluation. Getting a baseline and regular hearing checks can help you monitor your hearing health and detect hearing loss early.
There are steps that you can take to minimize your risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Call our office today to schedule a hearing evaluation, discuss your risk, or go over treatment options.