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Eye Diseases and Heredity

When two parents are nearsighted, their child is likely to develop it too. Heredity plays a big role not only when it comes to vision, but also for the health of the eyes. Genetics can increase the risk of certain eye diseases. Thus, your eyes may be prone to some diseases and conditions if there is related family history.

Genes are units of information that are transmitted from parent to child before birth. Did you know that 60% of childhood blindness is caused by genetic factors? Several diseases and conditions can also cause this, including congenital glaucoma, ocular malformations, optic nerve atrophy, and retinitis pigmentosa. In adulthood, genetic factors may be associated with major eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Many of these hereditary diseases do not show up before adulthood. In some cases, an adult can carry a gene without developing a disease and stay healthy, but pass it on to their child, who may be affected by this disease. Sometimes it is not the disease is directly transmitted, but a genetic predisposition for it. This is particularly true for several common eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, strabismus and certain types of glaucoma. These predisposing factors explain why certain diseases can affect several members of the same family.

Cataracts
Heredity plays an important role in the onset of this lens-related disease. Some other factors, such as diabetes, taking drugs such as steroids and cortisone, as well as exposure to UV and infrared rays can also cause cataracts. A patient with cataracts will have blurred or foggy vision and will be really light-sensitive. Depending on the stage of the disease, surgery may be necessary to replace the lens with an implant. Since family history is a risk factor for cataracts, it is particularly important to have an eye exam at the recommended frequency to detect this as quickly as possible to better prevent progression.

Retinitis pigmentosa
This condition is a set of genetic diseases, which is characterized by the degeneration of the receptor cells of the retina. Retinitis pigmentosa is the result of a mutation affecting more than 50 photoreceptor genes in our eyes, called rods and cones. The rods are responsible for peripheral vision and vision low light conditions, while the cones make it possible to see colours. The symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa can be expressed by a difficulty to see in the dark, the restriction of the field of vision and a great sensitivity to light. This disease is often diagnosed during adolescence, but it can be present from birth. It causes progressive vision loss, which can go as far as blindness. As there is no current cure for retinitis pigmentosa, diagnosing the disease as early as possible can help optimize the vision for affected patients. There are indeed vision devices that can help them continue practicing their daily activities.

Glaucoma
This disease is characterized by abnormal pressure inside the eye, which damages the optic nerve. This pressure is caused by the drainage difficulties of the aqueous humor, one of the liquids of the eye. Symptoms of glaucoma include peripheral vision degradation, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and sometimes pain. There are two types of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is characterized by the blockage of the drainage channels of the eyes. It settles gradually and is considered chronic. Open-angle glaucoma is incurable, but can be controlled with medications or surgical techniques. Angle-closure glaucoma is caused by an abnormality in the shape of the eye. People with a predisposition to this type of glaucoma can undergo a small preventive surgery to facilitate the flow of aqueous humor. Many patients with glaucoma have similar cases in their families. During an eye exam the optometrist is able to screen for glaucoma before the disease begins to affect vision.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The macula is the central part of the retina responsible for sharpness of vision, which allows you to read and distinguish the details. It deteriorates when the patient has macular degeneration. This disease makes the central vision blurry, leaving peripheral vision intact. Age, UV exposure, diet, smoking and family history can promote its appearance. When examining eye health, your optometrist can detect the first signs of AMD. Macular degeneration can be controlled through the in-take of vitamin supplements for your eyes or through eye injections.

Other eye conditions may also be related to heredity, like strabismus or color blindness for example. During a routine eye exam a photo is taken of the retina. From this picture, the optometrist may be able to detect certain inherited eye diseases before the onset of symptoms. Detecting a disease as early as possible can help because treatment may be started and this may even prevent the appearance of symptoms of the condition. If you have a history of eye disease in your family, it is especially important to consult your optometrist at the recommended frequency. To learn more about hereditary eye diseases, make an appointment at an IRIS store near you.

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