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Is Tinnitus Genetic?

Tinnitus is a sound that is perceived in the ears or head of an individual. It often occurs due to changes or damage to the auditory system, which results in hyperactivity of the neurons along the auditory pathway in the brain. This hyperactivity is what people “hear” as tinnitus (and depending on where the damage occurs, it can sound slightly different for everyone).

However, there are also other causes of tinnitus, and one of the most common questions is: “Is tinnitus genetic?”. In this blog, we will answer that question and provide an overview of the different factors that may be relevant in managing and treating tinnitus symptoms.

Is Tinnitus Linked to Genetics?

The short answer is yes – it can be.

For many years, researchers believed that tinnitus could only be caused by damage to the ear or another part of the auditory system. New evidence shows that there may be other causes to this common hearing issue. Recent studies show that tinnitus may be inherited through genetics. Thus, if you have a family history of tinnitus, you may have an increased risk of developing tinnitus.

A study completed by Clifford et al. (2020) indicated eight genes and three loci that are associated with tinnitus and “a number of variants [showing] up consistently among individuals with tinnitus but not among those without tinnitus” (Cederroth, 2020).

These results held true even when taking individuals with hearing loss out of the equation, further supporting tinnitus can be genetic rather than just caused by hearing loss or changes to our auditory system (Clifford et al, 2020). When it comes to gender, studies indicated “higher heritability in men with bilateral tinnitus at any age, and young women with bilateral tinnitus, but not in unilateral tinnitus” (Lopez-Escamez & Amanat, 2020).

Additional studies have evaluated the role of genetics with tinnitus versus environmental factors by examining twins, as well as individuals within a biological family versus individuals within an adoptive family. A study completed by Bogo et al. (2017) evaluated male twins and found a higher risk for tinnitus with more rapid changes in hearing and “a moderate genetic influence for tinnitus.”

Another study evaluated adopted children and found they would often have tinnitus if someone in their biological family also experienced it, while their adoptive families did not have tinnitus, indicating a genetic component rather than environmental factors contributing to tinnitus (Cederroth & Pirouzi Fard, 2019).

With this information in mind, further research needs to be completed, as many of these studies could not be replicated to further validate the possible connections (Amanat et al., 2021). Additionally, it can be difficult to rule out the auditory changes we experience as we age from environmental factors that can be contributing to tinnitus, such as exposure to loud noises or age-related hearing loss.

While understanding the correlation between genetics and tinnitus is still somewhat in the beginning stages, it is important to pay attention to whether this symptom appears in your family history. If you notice new tinnitus or worsening tinnitus, it is important to have an evaluation with an experienced audiologist as early tinnitus treatment can lead to the best outcomes.

What Can Be Done to Determine if I Have Genetic Tinnitus?

At this time, genetic testing for these specific tinnitus genes is only being completed in research and not clinically in medical offices. However, by working with a clinical audiologist, it can be surmised what external and possible genetic factors may be contributing to your symptoms; this is done by a detailed medical history and audiologic evaluation. These results will provide your audiologist with the information needed to move forward with a tinnitus treatment plan that is specifically customized to you and your background.

What are Other Common Causes of Tinnitus?

While tinnitus may be caused by genetics, this is just one of many causes of this common hearing issue. With so many unique causes, it can be a challenge to know what exactly is causing that ringing sound in your ears. This is why it’s so important to consult an experienced audiologist who can identify the specific cause of your tinnitus symptoms. Once you’ve identified the cause of your tinnitus, it becomes easier to develop an effective tinnitus treatment plan.

Many of the most common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Repeated exposure to loud noises.
  • Ear infections.
  • Ear wax blockage in the ear canal.
  • Side effect of ototoxic medications.
  • Head or neck injuries.
  • Age-releated hearing loss.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Meniere’s disease.
  • TMJ disorders.
  • Acoustic neuroma.
  • Abnormal neural activity in the auditory nerve fibers.
  • Muscle spasms in the ears.
  • Blood vessel disorders or blood flow problems (which may cause pulsatile tinnitus).

Treating Tinnitus Linked to Genetics

Treatment for tinnitus may look different depending on the results of your initial evaluation; however, most plans will incorporate the use of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Prescriptive sound therapy, in conjunction with educational counseling, are key components of TRT, which is one of the most effective ways to deal with your tinnitus symptoms.

The central nervous system (CNS) is what brings attention and possibly distress to tinnitus. Prescriptive sound therapy is used to stimulate the damaged part of the ear, nerves, and brain. The sound therapy calms and distracts the CNS away from the tinnitus and it helps rewire the brain by creating a new auditory pathway with less tinnitus hyperactivity.

This prescriptive use of sound often provides a level of immediate relief and has been proven to reduce tinnitus symptoms over time with proper follow-up and educational counseling. The educational counseling component of TRT provides more personalized information about critical factors related to tinnitus, which positively reinforces the new auditory pathways formed.

Tinnitus Treatment with Sound Relief Hearing Center

Regardless of the cause of your tinnitus, the first step to to learn more about treatment options is to speak with a qualified audiologist that specializes in this niche aspect of hearing health. Sound Relief is the obvious choice with 15 audiologists and nine convenient locations in Colorado and Arizona. We are hyperfocused on tinnitus, available to answer your questions and concerns, and able to help you find the relief you deserve.

Get started on your way back to peace and quiet by scheduling a comprehensive evaluation consultation at Sound Relief and see how we can help get you back to your best life!

References:

Amanat, S., Gallego-Martinez, A., & Lopez-Escamez, J. A. (2021). Genetic Inheritance and Its Contribution to Tinnitus. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences, 51, 29–47.

https://doi.org/10.1007/7854_2020_155

Bogo, R., Farah, A., Karlsson, K., Pedersen, N., Svartengren, M., & Skjönsberg, Å. (2017). Prevalence, Incidence Proportion, and Heritability for Tinnitus: A Longitudinal Twin Study. Ear and Hearing, 38(3), 292-300.

http://doi:10.1097/AUD.0000000000000397

Cederroth, C., & PirouziFard, M.N. (2019). Association of Genetic vs Environmental Factors in Swedish Adoptees With Clinically Significant Tinnitus. JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, 145(3), 222-229.

http://doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2018.3852

Cederroth, C., Trpchevska, N., & Langguth, B. (2020). A New Buzz for Tinnitus—It’s in the Genes! JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, 146(11), 1025–1026.

http://doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2020.2919

Clifford, R., Maihofer, A., & Stein, M. (2020). Novel Risk Loci in Tinnitus and Causal Inference With Neuropsychiatric Disorders Among Adults of European Ancestry. JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, 146(11), 1015–1025.

http://doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2020.2920

Lopez-Escamez, J. A., & Amanat, S. (2020). Heritability and Genetics Contribution to Tinnitus.
Otolaryngologic clinics of North America, 53(4), 501–513.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.otc.2020.03.003

At Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center, we provide hope and help to those living with tinnitus and other hearing health issues. Our patients are at the center of everything we do, and we strive to guide them to overcome their challenges by delivering innovative and compassionate healthcare.

Dr. Julie Prutsman, owner of this family-owned practice, has expanded to 9 locations across Colorado and Arizona. In 2012, she founded Sound Relief in her hometown of Highlands Ranch, Colorado and continues to foster their mission through mentorship of the brightest minds in the field of Audiology.