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Is tinnitus hereditary?

A new study shows that certain forms of tinnitus – a persistent ringing or buzzing sound in the ears – may be hereditary.

Men, in particular, may be more prone to experience bilateral tinnitus because of their genetics, according to the study conducted by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and the European research network TINNET.

Researchers used data from the Swedish Twin Registry to study the prevalence of bilateral tinnitus, or tinnitus in both ears, to determine if the condition is hereditary.

“This result is surprising and unexpected as it shows that, unlike the conventional view of tinnitus being driven by environmental factors, there is a genetic influence for bilateral tinnitus which is more pronounced in men,” says Christopher R. Cederroth at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, according to a press release.

“…there is a genetic influence for bilateral tinnitus which is more pronounced in men”

An estimated 10-15 percent of people have tinnitus, which is defined by ‘the perception of sound in the absence of external sound.’ Roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss, according to the Hearing Health Foundation.

Research confirms that tinnitus affects the ears, but originates in the brain. Some believe it is mainly triggered by age-related hearing loss and prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise. Other studies target tinnitus as a symptom of abnormal hyperactivity in the brain’s auditory cortex. 

While some cases are minor, some require more specific treatment to overcome possible long term effects. Although there is no cure for tinnitus, there are various effective forms of counseling and treatments available, including hearing technology.

Read more: Talking about Tinnitus: Coping, learning and finding relief

Researchers say they hope the study leads to more genetic studies and a better molecular understanding of its generation, as well as increase public health awareness.

Author Details
The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill Blocker von Bueren and Lisa Goldstein.