According to the Belgian researchers behind the discovery, the three genes affect the formation of potassium in the inner ear. Potassium is vital for hearing.
"This discovery could revolutionize the way this common form of hearing loss is prevented and treated in the future," said Dr Ralph Holme, of the British Royal National Institution of the Deaf, RNID, which funded the research..
More than 1,000 men who all had been exposed to loud noise in their workplaces took part in the study. Nearly 80 percent had been subjected to noise for at least 20 years.
A gene analysis of the 10 percent who were most sensitive to noise and an equal number who were most resistant produced the remarkable findings.
"Significant differences between the susceptible and resistant workers were found in the sequence of three genes KCNE1, KCNQ1 and KCNQ4. Further studies of KCNE1 show the version of the gene associated with increased risk to noise causes the encoded ion channel to open more rapidly than the normal version", said the head of the study, professor Van Campin of Antwerp University.
People with this genetic defect may be more vulnerable in noisy settings and more likely to suffer hearing damage.
RNID estimated that one million Britons are at risk or have already experienced hearing loss due to loud noise.
Source: Reuters Health, www.reutershealth.com, 06.07.2006