By Barry Keate
Barry Keate, has lived with tinnitus over 40 years and has published 150+ research articles on numerous aspects of tinnitus. He is an expert on the condition and a well-known advocate for those with tinnitus.
Nature vs. nurture. It’s the age-old debate over whether we are destined to become our parents. Is our future written in our DNA, or is our life experience what makes the difference? Is there anything you can do if you are genetically predisposed to a health condition, or are you doomed to follow in your parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps?
Is Tinnitus Inherited?
Genetics are a funny thing. Without getting too technical, which genes you inherit from each side is a surprise. Every child is a grab bag of inherited DNA contributed by both parents and their ancestors. Your parents and grandparents have the most substantial influence on your genetic makeup, but you can wind up with traits from relatives several generations back due to your unique combination of genes.
That makes the study of whether or not a health condition is genetic both fascinating and frustrating. In a perfect study, all the participants would be the same age, have the same health conditions, come from the same environment, and have the same life experience. Then, you can tell if the commonalities and differences are purely genetic.
Unfortunately for scientists, there are no perfect studies, so they collect large data sets to look for consistent trends. Many studies continue to explore common genes between tinnitus sufferers, and the results are convincing. Some inherited genes can make you more likely to develop tinnitus than someone without those genes.
How Do I Know If I’m Predisposed?
Unfortunately, specialized genetic testing is only done in connection with studies and isn’t available to your family doctor or ENT. However, a comprehensive health history that includes your parents’ and grandparents’ hearing ability is helpful.
If your father has tinnitus, for example, here are some things to consider:
- Was he ever a soldier, cop, or hunter, and around gunfire regularly?
- Did he work in a loud environment like a machine shop, wood shop, factory, construction site, concert hall, or arena?
- Did he ever suffer a head injury that affected his hearing?
- What medications did he take?
- Did he ever suffer a significant infection?
These are just some environmental elements contributing to tinnitus and hearing loss. Environmental contributions make it difficult to determine if they inherited tinnitus or and will pass it down to you or if something else caused the condition.
If I Am Predisposed, What Can I Do?
If you’re worried about tinnitus, you can limit the number of contributing factors in your life.
- You can avoid explosive noises like gunfire or sustained loud noises like machine shops by choosing a quieter job and hobbies. The other alternative is to wear ear protection while participating in these types of activities.
- Avoid smoking.
- Limit noise pollution in your home.
- As obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome can cause tinnitus, eat a balanced, low-sugar diet and get plenty of exercise to increase circulation.
- Take nutrients and supplements for tinnitus that support healthy nerve function and regeneration to prevent damage. Recommended supplements include:
- Ginkgo Biloba – After more than 400 studies, high-quality, taking potent ginkgo biloba for ear ringing has proven effective in treating depression, dizziness, and tinnitus.
- Zinc – More zinc is in the ear than in any other organ. Deficiencies cause tinnitus. Taking zinc for tinnitus corrects nutrient deficiencies, improves the immune system, and helps the body produce over 100 different enzymes.
- Vitamin B12 – Adding a B12 supplement supports the central nervous system and reduces stress, among other things. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause tinnitus.
- Beware: These medications may cause or worsen tinnitus symptoms.
- Quinine (used to treat malaria)
- NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen, Aleve
- Loop Diuretics: Bumex, Edecrin, Lasix and Demadex.
- Aminoglycoside Antibiotics: Amikacin, Dihydrostreptomycin, Gentamicin, Kanamycin, Neomycin, Netilmicin, Streptomycin, and Tobramycin
- SSRI Antidepressants: Clomipraminel, Amitriptyline, Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, and LuvoxCisplatin and Carboplatin
- Anti-Cancer Drugs
- Environmental Chemicals and Metals
Is Tinnitus Ever Dangerous?
By itself, tinnitus isn’t dangerous. The problem is that tinnitus is a symptom of several more significant health conditions, which should be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible. Tinnitus is considered an emergency if accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Head Injury
- Facial Paralysis (indicative of a stroke, bell’s palsy, or Ramsay Hunt Syndrome)
- Heartbeat in your ears (pulsatile tinnitus) when at rest, indicating unusually high blood pressure or related conditions
- Sudden onset tinnitus without a cause like loud noise is dangerous
- Persistent ear infection
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Suicidal Ideation
Note: If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the suicide hotline, talk to your doctor, or check yourself in at the ER for evaluation if you feel unsafe.
If you’re worried about your hearing, talk to your provider. It’s always better to go now rather than regret it later. Your provider should be able to help you narrow down the underlying cause of your symptoms. Early detection is critical to get the best possible outcome.