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Tinnitus Blog - Is there a Genetic Link with Tinnitus?

Welcome to the latest Tinnitus Tunes blog which explores the topic of genetics and tinnitus.

Personalised medicine is a hot topic in clinical care at the moment. At its core is the ability to identify different genetic markers (known as "biomarkers"), usually from blood samples. These can be used to identify a particular genetic basis for a disease or to identify who will and will not respond to certain treatment including drugs. The power being that treatment can then be potentially tailored to suit each individual.

At present there aren't any clear-based genetic markers for tinnitus, but that may soon change based on some interesting new findings. Dr Christopher Cederroth and a team from the Karolinska Institutet recently had a paper published that found a genetic factor for bilateral (two-ear) tinnitus, just in men.

The research also provided support for the fact that more men than women suffer from tinnitus, with 17.8% of males in the sample stating they had tinnitus compared to 12.5% of females.

The evidence suggested that there was an inherited aspect to bilateral tinnitus in males, not females and not for those who have tinnitus in just one ear. Many of our patients and members over the years have mentioned they must have inherited their tinnitus from parents or grandparents, we used to just think it was just a coincidence, but perhaps for some people tinnitus is inherited.

To identify a genetic link to tinnitus, 70,186 twin individuals were asked "do you have buzzing in the ears?" with possible answers of (a) No (b) yes - one ear (c) yes - two ears (d) don't know. About 15% of the group answered yes to having tinnitus (so a total of 10,464 individuals). Questionnaire based research is difficult, for example; if you have tinnitus that is not a buzzing sound - how would you have answered? We see many people who say their tinnitus is in the head, not the ears, which category would that fall into? Also in testing people with 3D audio methods, we have found that bilateral tinnitus can be very different from one person to the next. This does not mean the results are wrong, but that tinnitus is difficult to easily categorise.

If this research is able to continue it is possible that at some point in the future we'll discover reliable genetic markers for the presence of tinnitus, and possibly those markers will inform the development of new targeted medications or treatment tailored for each individual - an exciting prospect! We will keep you updated on any future developments.

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Associate Professor Grant D Searchfield Clinical Director Tinnitus Tunes


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