If you’ve ever visited your optometrist, you may have noticed they ask about your family history. Though it may not seem like something that matters when thinking about your eyes, this isn’t quite true. Your family history is an important contributing factor when it comes to the health of your eyes.
There are some eye conditions that can be inherited genetically from your relatives. Glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and congenital cataracts can be passed down through the generations of your family.
This is why your optometrist asks about your family history during a regular eye exam. If one or more of your family members has an eye condition that’s considered genetic, the optometrist can then search for potential symptoms and diagnose you properly—or give you a clean bill of health for your eyes.
What Is a Genetic Eye Disease?
Genetic eye diseases refer to any eye disease that can be transferred from parents to their children. These diseases can include common vision problems, such as myopia or hyperopia, but also include more severe conditions like glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration.
A genetic disease is best defined as a condition that has roots in your genetic makeup. Simply put, if one or both of your parents has a certain condition, you may have it in your DNA to develop the same one.
It’s important to note, though, that this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to develop a genetic condition. It simply means that you’re more likely than most people to develop it. There is still a chance that you’ll live your life without ever experiencing the condition.
This makes it essential to know your family history before you visit your optometrist. They’ll be able to use this information to determine how likely you are to develop an eye condition, and it could explain any symptoms you may be experiencing. Being armed with the information about how likely you are to experience one of these eye conditions can play an important role in early diagnosis—which means you can begin treatment much sooner as well.
What Eye Diseases Are Genetic?
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases caused by increased intraocular pressure—the pressure inside your eye. When this pressure builds up, it can begin to cause damage directly to the optic nerve. This is the nerve that transmits visual information to the brain.
When there’s too much pressure in the eye, this information becomes compromised, as the nerve itself is being pushed or reshaped. This can cause:
- The loss of peripheral vision
- Tunnel vision
- Light sensitivity
- Difficulty seeing in low-light conditions
- Blurry vision
- Halos around light sources
- Clouds in your vision
In the earliest stages, glaucoma typically doesn’t show any symptoms. However, as it progresses, symptoms can begin developing rapidly. This has led to glaucoma often being called “the silent thief of sight.”
Fortunately, if you have a family history of glaucoma, your optometrist can search for this condition early on, which may be able to help protect your vision.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration, often referred to as AMD, is one of the leading causes of vision loss in adults over the age of 50. It causes damage to the macula, a small part in the center of your retina that’s responsible for clear central vision.
Over time, the retina—the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye—becomes less flexible, and with AMD, it can begin to break down. This damage to the macula can cause:
- Blurry central vision
- Dark or empty spots in the center of your vision
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- Reduced color intensity
- Poor night vision
In some cases, AMD can even cause straight lines to appear wavy, crooked, or bent. Often, people with this condition find they have difficulty reading or performing tasks that require detailed focus.
It’s important to note that with AMD, your peripheral vision will most likely be unaffected. However, the loss of central vision can cause frustration in your daily life. If you have a family history of age-related macular degeneration, you should tell your optometrist so they can search for any signs of this condition.
Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy
Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, or LHON, is a rare disorder that primarily affects the optic nerve. Typically, this condition is passed down from the mother.
LHON can cause a sudden, painless loss of your central vision. This can happen to one or both eyes and usually begins in early adulthood. While the symptoms may vary from person to person, this condition often causes:
- Sudden partial vision loss in one or both eyes
- Problems with your ability to distinguish between colors
- Blurry vision
- Visual distortions when focusing on lines
This condition rarely affects your peripheral vision, but similar to AMD, it can cause a total loss of your central vision. This can make reading, writing, or even recognizing a person’s face much more difficult.
A cataract occurs when your eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy. As you age, the proteins in your eye can begin to break down. These strands can then clump together, blocking light from reaching the retina.
A congenital cataract occurs when a cataract develops at birth or shortly thereafter. In some cases, they might not be visible, and it may be difficult to tell that there’s anything wrong. While the child’s visual system is developing and they’re getting used to seeing the world, this cloudiness begins to interfere.
It stops light from entering the eye and focusing on the retina. This can lead to:
- Blurry vision
- Cloudy spots
- Halos around light sources
- Extreme light sensitivity
A child may have difficulty making eye contact, as they may be struggling to recognize and identify faces. They may seem like they have delayed visual development and may react to bright lights.
This makes it essential to know your family history, as congenital cataracts are passed down throughout the family. This information can help you and your optometrist determine if your child needs advanced care for their eyes.
How Genetics Affect Your Eyes
Genetic eye diseases can present a serious concern since they have the potential to significantly impact your quality of life. By learning about your family history—and communicating this to your optometrist—you can be aware of any eye conditions you may be at risk of developing.
Our team at Crum Optometric Group is dedicated to providing you with comprehensive eye care, including a potential diagnosis for genetic eye diseases. Give us a call or book an appointment online with us today.