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Types and causes of hearing loss and deafness

Genetic hearing loss and deafness

Our DNA is the genetic code containing the information that guides how our bodies grow and function.

Some types of deafness can be inherited caused by genetic changes. These can be inherited, being passed down through families. This can be the case, even if no one else in your family is deaf or has hearing loss. Genetic changes can also happen by themselves, even if the parents do not have these changes.

In the UK, around 1-2 children per thousand are born with permanent hearing loss. This is due to a genetic cause in about half of these cases.

Genetic information and deafness

If you are deaf, or if deafness runs in your family, genetic information may be helpful to:

  • try to identify the cause of your deafness
  • find out the chances of having a child who is deaf
  • look for medical conditions that might be associated with your deafness.

In around 30% of children born with genetic hearing loss, the hearing loss is associated with other medical conditions or syndromes. For example, someone with Usher syndrome has deafness from an early age and loses their sight over time.

How to get genetic information

You can get information about genetics and deafness by speaking with a specialist in a clinical genetics service.

Genetic counselling is free on the NHS, but you need to be referred by your GP, paediatrician, ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant or audiologist.

Genetic research into deafness

In the future, many more genes may be discovered that are important for hearing. The genes discovered so far mainly cause deafness in childhood or young adulthood.

However, deafness in older people could be due to genetic inheritance too. Researchers are beginning to discover which genes cause age-related hearing loss. This might mean people who are at risk of losing their hearing can be identified and can take steps to protect their hearing.