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Eye diseases are an unfortunate reality for many people, and for some, these issues can be passed down genetically. Genetics plays a crucial role in developing many hereditary eye diseases, but it doesn’t mean those at risk have to suffer the same fate.
This blog will discuss the role of genetics in hereditary eye diseases and what can be done to prevent or mitigate their effects. By understanding eye genetics, we can take the necessary steps to protect our vision and that of our loved ones.
The Impact of Genetics on Eye Health
Is eyesight genetic? If you have a family history of eye diseases, you are more likely to develop the same condition than someone whose family does not have such a history. This is because the most common causes of vision loss or eye diseases are linked to eyesight genetics. The only exceptions are eye trauma or illnesses that come on suddenly or accidentally. Even conditions such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism are usually hereditary.
Common Genetic Eye Disorders
Common inherited eye diseases include glaucoma, cataract, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and congenital eye defects. Early diagnosis is key to managing these conditions, as some can worsen without proper care.
Glaucoma is an eye condition caused by increased internal eye pressure, which can damage the optic nerve - the connection between the eye and the brain. Symptoms of glaucoma include vision problems like gradual vision loss, especially peripheral vision, eye pain, redness, headaches, and nausea.
Is Glaucoma hereditary? Yes. Therefore, it is essential to tell your glaucoma specialist (eye doctor) if any of your family members have experienced severe vision loss or blindness due to glaucoma. It is imperative to take the proper steps to diagnose and treat it in its initial stages. Treatment is usually achieved through medication, surgery, and changes in lifestyle.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye's natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. It is the most common cause of vision loss. Cataracts can cause blurred vision, increased glare from bright lights, poor night vision, and even blindness.
Genes shared within families sometimes cause cataract hereditary eye problems, especially in children. Some types of cataracts, particularly those known as congenital cataracts, can be passed down genetically and may develop in infants or young kids.
Researchers have discovered 115 genes and 38 disease-associated genes connected to cataract formation. However, it is possible to treat this condition with cataract surgery.
#3. Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes. It is caused by changes in the retina's blood vessels, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Over time, these blood vessels may swell and leak fluid or even close off completely, blocking blood flow to the retina.
This can cause vision loss and even blindness. Unfortunately, genetic factors play a role in DR onset, mainly because diabetes is genetically linked. However, a proactive diet and exercise habits can almost eliminate this risk factor, and diabetic retinopathy treatment is available for this vision impairment.
#4. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a medical condition that affects the center of the retina, the layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It is a leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50.
Is macular degeneration hereditary? Macular degeneration can be hereditary in some cases. However, it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, people may have a genetic predisposition to the condition, meaning that one or both parents may have had it.
Symptoms of AMD include blurred vision, distorted vision, and difficulty seeing in dim light. The deterioration of the macula causes AMD, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. It is not curable, however, treatments are available to slow its progression and prevent further vision loss.
#5. Lazy Eye or Crossed Eyes
Lazy eye (amblyopia) is a visual development disorder in which the vision in one eye does not develop properly. Crossed eyes (strabismus) are a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned, and one eye turns either inward or outward.
Lazy eye is not a genetic condition, though some genetic diseases, such as albinism, can cause it. Crossed eyes, on the other hand, can be genetic. Both may occur due to various conditions, such as weak eye muscles, trauma, or a disruption in normal visual development.
#6. Color Blindness
Color blindness is a condition in which a person cannot distinguish certain colors, usually red and green, from one another. It is an inherited condition passed down through the mother's genes.
If a woman has the gene for color blindness, her sons have a 50% chance of being color blind, and her daughters have a 50% chance of carrying the gene. However, if both the mother and father are color blind, then the probability of both sons and daughters being color blind increases to 50%.
This is why only approximately 1 in 200 women are color blind. As far as genetic eye conditions go, there is no medical cure for color blindness.
Other Hereditary Eye Conditions
Some mild forms of eye disease require no intervention, while others are treated with eye patches, prescription glasses, or medication. In some cases, surgery is necessary to improve vision or to avoid serious complications.
Below is a genetic eye disorder list that can cause eyesight challenges:
- Strabismus (also called crossed eyes);
- Amblyopia (also called lazy eyes);
- Myopia (also called nearsightedness);
- Hyperopia (also called farsightedness);
- Astigmatism (blurred vision due to the irregular shape of the cornea).
What to Do If Your Family Has a History of Ocular Disease
If you come from a family with inherited eyes diseases, you can do the following to preserve your vision and reduce the risk of inherited eye diseases:
- Have annual eye exams to detect potential issues and establish a baseline;
- Monitor your vision for clarity, color perception, and peripheral vision changes;
- Wear UV-blocking sunglasses when outdoors;
- Eat a healthy diet, including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids;
- Exercise regularly to reduce your risk of developing diabetes, which can cause eye problems;
- Avoid smoking, as it can increase your risk of developing ocular diseases;
- Wear protective eyewear when participating in contact sports or activities;
- Follow your doctor’s advice for managing or preventing genetic eye diseases or disorders.
My Genetics Are Good. Do I Need an Eye Checkup?
Yes, getting an eye checkup is always a good idea, regardless of your genetics. It will detect any potential problems or changes in your vision that may not be noticeable.
The Kraff Eye Institute Cares About Your Eyes
Would you like to take charge of your ocular and visual well-being? Our specialists at The Kraff Eye Institute in Chicago can assist you in understanding the effects of genetics, lifestyle, medical history, and what causes bad eyesight, so you can recognize and address potential risks. Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor to start your journey toward better vision.