Have you ever heard noises such as high-pitch ringing or buzzing? Although relatively common and often not tied to any underlying issue, ear ringing could indicate a more severe condition like tinnitus. The most surprising part? Your risk of developing tinnitus could be directly linked to your genes.
Loud or constant noise can be bothersome and overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to concentrate or get work done in a quiet setting. It is even more frustrating when you can’t stop the cause of the noise because outside sources cannot hear it.
If this happens to you a lot, you may be experiencing tinnitus. This condition is often associated with preexisting hearing loss or noise-induced damage to the auditory system.
For some, it can often happen and disturb daily life and sleep.
For others, it happens less frequently and is only mildly disruptive.
In either case, your tinnitus diagnosis may be due to genetics.
Let’s discuss tinnitus and its possible tie to genetics in more detail, including symptoms and condition causes.
Most often referred to as frequent ear ringing, tinnitus is an auditory condition that causes internal noises in one or both ears. It affects 15% to 20% of people and is most common in older adults.
Tinnitus is broken down into two main categories:
Although the most prevalent symptom of tinnitus is a ringing noise in the ears, it can also cause phantom noises that are described as:
The pitch of the noise you hear can vary from a low roar to a high pitch squeal and range in volume from light to obstructively loud, affecting concentration and peace of mind.
Tinnitus can affect anyone at any age and be caused by various issues including:
Less common causes of tinnitus include:
The short answer is that it depends.
Genetic analysis using linkage or genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can be a powerful tool to reveal underlying causes of inheritable conditions such as tinnitus.
A recent study of more than 70,000 twins in the Swedish Twin Registry suggested that the heritability of tinnitus is 0.43.1
This rises to a relatively high rate of 0.68 when the trait is limited to bilateral tinnitus (occurring in both ears) in men only, suggesting a higher genetic component in some.
Whether any genetic component to a tinnitus phenotype is specific or may represent a secondary phenotype due to increased susceptibility to noise-induced damage to the auditory system remains to be clarified.
To investigate the nature of the mechanisms involved in generating tinnitus after hearing loss, a prerequisite for the development of treatments, researchers performed a genome-wide association study for self-reported tinnitus in a large number of samples in the UK Biobank.
Participants were asked questions related to tinnitus symptoms and their severity or nuisance, including, “do you get or have you had noises (such as ringing or buzzing) in your head or in one or both ears that last for more than 5 min at a time?”
Participants that responded either “yes, now most or all of the time” or “yes, now a lot of the time” were assigned cases. Those that responded “no,” were given controls.
In total, genotype data of 91,424 participants were analyzed for the association with tinnitus.
Three single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) exceeded genome-wide significance at the same locus on chromosome 14. 2
However, when the most severe tinnitus sub-group who answered, “yes, now most or all of the time” were analyzed against the control group, it did not show associations with severe tinnitus at a significant level.
Meaning that although this study has identified several interesting candidate genes for susceptibility to tinnitus, further research is needed to draw conclusions.
A comprehensive DNA analysis is one of the best ways to determine your underlying risk of developing auditory issues, such as tinnitus.
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2An additional 88 SNPs were associated with tinnitus at a suggestive significance level. These included the following six SNPs; rs7991328, rs61750816 in the PTPN gene, rs1532898 in the TGM4 gene, rs7314493 in the E2F7, rs4370496 in the XKR6, and rs2277468.