Does a Family History of Eye Disease Increase Your Risk?

Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2020 by Dr. Binoy Jani

Eye Health in Fredericksburg, VA

The holidays and the end of the year are a popular time to reflect on your family’s legacy and the things your loved ones have passed down from generation to generation. You may not realize it, but many diseases, including diseases that affect our eyes and vision, tend to run in families.

Although you can’t control your family eye health history, the team at Vista Eye Specialists believes you can educate yourself about inherited eye diseases and take steps to reduce your risk of losing sight to these problems.

Eye Diseases That May Be Inherited

Three of the most serious eye diseases that run in families are:

    • Glaucoma – a group of diseases characterized by an increase in pressure inside the eye. The more common form of the disease, open-angle glaucoma, develops slowly and often “silently,” meaning there are no noticeable symptoms until significant damage has occurred and vision has been lost.
    • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the gradual breakdown of the macula. Two specific genes are believed to increase the risk of getting AMD.
    • Cataracts – a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Although most cataracts are linked to age-related changes in the eye, family history is also a factor.

Genetics can also contribute to refractive errors (e.g., nearsightedness) as well as rarer diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina.

Manage Your Risk of Eye Problems

Hereditary eye diseases may be asymptomatic in the early stages. You may not know you have developed an eye disease or that it is advancing, because you don’t notice any warning signs.

If you have an accurate and complete picture of your family history, you can take steps to mitigate your risk of a specific disease. Importantly, you can be proactive by undergoing regular eye exams, which look for signs of cataracts, glaucoma, AMD and other problems. A baseline eye exam is usually recommended around the age of 40; at that time, your eye doctor can recommend how frequently to follow up, depending on your family eye health history and any other personal or lifestyle risk factors.

You can also manage other risk factors for eye diseases, such as poor diet, overexposure to UV ration and the use of certain medications.

We Care About Your Eyesight

It’s not exactly polite Thanksgiving dinner conversation to inquire about Grandma’s cataracts or Aunt Deb’s macular degeneration. But in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle, consider pulling family members aside to ask about their health history. As you gather information, know that your siblings and parents are most important; however, you will also want to learn about the eye health of your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

If you have questions about a specific eye disease or steps you can take to mitigate your personal risk, Vista Eye Specialists is here for you. Call or email us today!