Keeping your Eye on Genetics
As we get older, our family's history (especially health history) plays a significant role in our lives, and often we end up a little more like our parents than we ever thought possible. This may be particularly true when it comes to our eyes. Both common vision problems and many serious eye diseases may be genetic. So, it is important to know your family's history and eye history, and to familiarize yourself with the various eye conditions that can be inherited in order to protect your vision and that of your children.
Familiar vision complications that we know can be inherited are crossed-eyes, lazy eye, astigmatism, and refraction problems. And, an example of a very serious genetic condition is retinitis pigmentosa which causes night blindness and gradual vision loss in children, teens and young adults.
Many eye diseases are a result of aging, and it's not unusual for an 80 year old to develop glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye). But, if your 50 year old parent develops glaucoma, you need to be aware that this is not the norm, and you may also be genetically predisposed to develop this condition at an early age. The same can be said for cataracts which are a clouding of the lens in your eye producing blurred or double vision and trouble seeing at night. Macular degeneration which causes you to lose your central vision by affecting the macula is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 65 in the US. And, besides family history other risks for macular degeneration are smoking, obesity, being over the age of 60 and hypertension.
Hypertension can cause serious damage to the blood vessels in the retina (hypertensive retinopathy) especially when the pressure has been significantly high for a long period of time. And, the more family members that you have with high blood pressure before the age of 60, the higher your risk for developing hypertension.
Diabetes can lead to serious vision loss or blindness when uncontrolled glucose levels affect the blood vessels of the retina resulting in diabetic retinopathy, and if you have a family history of diabetes, poor blood sugar control, are pregnant or have high bood pressure, you may be at risk for this condition. Even without being diagnosed with retinopathy, extreme changes in your blood sugar can cause you to experience blurry vision.
Dry eye is often just the result of a dry environment, cigarette smoke, side effects of medication, or a sign that your eyes need a break from the computer, TV, or your contact lens. But, there are certain autoimmune diseases where dry eye is a symptom of the disease such as Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and some types of thyroid disease.
Serious eye diseases can begin without any noticeable symptoms, so when you are unaware of your genetic risks, you may have an undiagnosed condition that you aren't getting treatment for in the earliest stages when management can be the most successful. This is why knowing your family history and how it relates to your risk for eye disease can help you save your sign for a lifetime.
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