If you know more about your family's health and vision history, you can take steps to protect your eyes from the early signs of glaucoma, which causes damage to the optic nerve. There are 10 types of glaucoma conditions diagnosed by eye doctors today, including open-angle and closed-angle. Most glaucoma problems develop during the aging process, but they can also develop in people with specific medical backgrounds, such as eye disease and diabetes. Here are some things to know about glaucoma and why it's critical that you know your family's medical background.
Does Genetics Play a Role in Glaucoma?
Your family's genetic makeup may have something to do with how and why you have glaucoma. Parents and grandparents who have histories of eye diseases typically pass the conditions down to their offspring or relatives directly or indirectly. Sources, such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology, talk about the links between glaucoma and genetics or heredity, as well as the possible DNA-based treatments for glaucoma.
Researchers suggests that the best way to treat glaucoma, or even stop it before it manifests, is to examine the clients' family history, as well as perform genetic testing on the clients' family members who have the glaucoma gene. Parents, siblings and other closely-related family members may have similar or the same DNA-markers or hidden genes for the eye disease. By examining the blood cells and other DNA samples of family members, researchers may be able to compare the samples to their clients and locate the glaucoma gene early.
Other sources, such as Genetics Home Reference, provide details on glaucoma and genetics as well. For instance, the source talks about the links between early-onset glaucoma, heredity and mutated genes. Children and young adults who have parents with glaucoma may develop the condition also, if they inherit the gene that causes the eye disease.
Although finding the links between glaucoma and genetics is ongoing and time-consuming, researchers hope to develop treatments that repair the genes responsible for glaucoma once they complete their work. If researchers find the genetic links through familial testing or exams, they may find ways to repair or treat them before they damage or weaken the eyes' optic nerves in clients.
What Should You Do to Protect Your Vision?
It's a good idea to sit down and talk to your parents or grandparents about your family's history of eye conditions, diseases and infections. If possible, speak to any aunts and uncles you have in your family.
Some vision issues skip generations in your family. For instance, a first cousin may have closed-angle glaucoma because it passed down from your grandparent to that cousin's parent — or your aunt or uncle. In your case, this type of glaucoma could skip your mother or father and pass to you instead.
After speaking to your family about the eye disease, contact an optometrist for an optic nerve exam. The exam measures the pressure around the optic nerves of both eyes with special optical tools and equipment. You should also be aware of other non-eye related conditions that can cause glaucoma.
Can Other Medical Conditions in Your Family Cause Glaucoma?
Diabetes is a perfect example of one prevalent medical condition that can run in families. The condition weakens blood vessels and nerves all over the body, including the nerves of your eyes. If one or more family members have a history of diabetes, it's possible for you to develop glaucoma in your lifetime.
If you do show signs of glaucoma and have a family history of diabetes, your eye doctor may refer you to your primary doctor for a glucose-tolerance or blood-sugar test. The test checks to see if you have excess sugar running through your blood vessels.
If so, your primary physician may prescribe medications and lifestyle changes to control your high blood sugar. Additionally, you can take steps yourself to reduce your risk factors for glaucoma if you develop diabetes or have a family history of it. For instance:
- See your optometrist every few months for eye-pressure tests — the optic nerve fails and develops glaucoma if excess fluids form around it, or around the blood vessels that support the optic nerve
- Eat eye-protecting vegetables like carrots and tomatoes — these vegetables contain vitamin A, which protects the blood vessels of your body by strengthening your blood cells, blood vessels and nerves
- Keep your eyes protected from the sun with sunglasses — the sun's harmful rays can place strain on the tissues that support the optic nerve, which makes the nerve work harder to filter out light and send messages to your brain
Keeping your health safe begins with seeing your optometrist for a detailed eye exam, a referral to see your primary doctor, and by following the tips above. Keep in mind that glaucoma may not show signs of pain or other symptoms until it becomes worse and interferes with your ability to see.
If you have a family history of diabetes or eye diseases, such as glaucoma, schedule your eye exam today. It can help protect your vision now and in the future.