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Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

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Close-up of a senior man with a serious expression and glaucoma in his right eye.

Glaucoma is a condition that affects millions of people around the world and can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. For those with a family history of this disease, the fear and uncertainty surrounding its hereditary factor can be daunting, as glaucoma is often hereditary. However, that is not always the case. 

Being aware of your family history and keeping up with regular eye exams can be vital in protecting your vision. With a comprehensive eye exam, signs of this condition can be detected before it worsens, which can improve your quality of life. 

Glaucoma & Its Potential Impact on Vision

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss. Often referred to as the “silent thief of sight,” glaucoma typically has no symptoms until significant damage has already occurred. It is estimated that 728,000 Canadians are living with glaucoma. There are 80 million people worldwide with glaucoma, and this number is expected to increase to over 111 million by 2040, putting more individuals at risk of losing their vision. That’s why early detection and management are crucial in preventing irreversible damage.

The Role of Genetics in Glaucoma Development

While the exact cause of glaucoma remains unknown, research has shown that genetics plays a significant role in its development. Studies have identified several genes associated with different types of glaucoma, including primary open-angle glaucoma and primary angle-closure glaucoma. These genetic variations can impact the structure and function of the eye’s drainage system, leading to increased intraocular pressure (IOP), which is a known risk factor for glaucoma.

Inherited glaucoma, also known as familial glaucoma, occurs in families with a history of the disease. If you have a first-degree relative with glaucoma, your risk of developing the condition increases by up to 9 times compared to those without a family history. 

Although there is no cure for glaucoma, timely diagnosis and treatment can significantly slow the progression of the disease and reduce the risk of vision loss. It’s essential to have regular eye exams, particularly if you are over 40, have a family history of glaucoma, or have other risk factors such as high eye pressure, diabetes, or African-American or Hispanic heritage. With early detection and proper management, individuals with glaucoma can maintain their vision and quality of life.

Genetic Testing for Glaucoma

Genetic testing has become increasingly available for individuals who may be at high risk for developing genetic forms of glaucoma. Through this testing, doctors can identify specific gene mutations that increase the likelihood of developing certain types of glaucoma, allowing for earlier intervention and treatment.

Studies have shown that certain gene variations can influence IOP and optic nerve damage associated with glaucoma. However, it is important to note that genetic factors alone do not determine whether or not someone will develop glaucoma. 

Other Risk Factors for Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a complex eye condition with many risk factors, including age, race, and medical conditions. As we age, the risk of developing glaucoma increases, so regular eye exams, especially for those over 40, are essential. 

Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, increase the risk of developing glaucoma. Understanding the many risk factors associated with glaucoma is the first step in early detection and prevention. 

A young woman sitting in an optometrist's office with an eye doctor while he shows her a model of an eye.

Early Detection & Prevention

Regular eye exams are essential for maintaining good eye health. Not only can they detect early signs of vision problems, but they can also prevent more serious conditions from developing. 

It is recommended that individuals get their eyes checked at least once a year, especially for those over the age of 40. By doing so, optometrists can spot signs of common eye diseases like glaucoma before they progress.

If you are living with glaucoma, your eye doctor can recommend a treatment plan to help you manage the condition. This may include using medication, undergoing surgery, or using specialized eye drops to help regulate IOP and prevent further damage to the optic nerve.

Other ways to help manage the condition include maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Glaucoma Diagnosis & Management at EyeCare Niagara

At EyeCare Niagara, our focus is on providing a timely and informative diagnosis and management for our patients with glaucoma. We understand the importance of kind, effective communication and work hard to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for our patients. By providing a personalized approach to glaucoma diagnosis and management, we strive to help our patients maintain clear and healthy vision for years to come. Book an appointment for your next eye exam today.


Written by Dr. Douglas DenBak

Being born and raised in St. Catharines, Dr. DenBak takes great pride in caring for his community through his optometry practice. Dr. DenBak graduated from the University of Waterloo School of Optometry in 1998 and immediately returned to his hometown to begin honing his trade. Dr. DenBak is extremely passionate about his practice and spends his extra time refining it in terms of its operations and future.

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