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Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

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Many health conditions in life are passed down through genetics. And one common eye disease that many wonder about is glaucoma and whether it’s hereditary. In short, glaucoma is hereditary, but that’s not the only risk factor that increases your chance of developing the disease.

This article will discuss the different types of glaucoma and their common causes. We’ll also cover some potential treatment options you can discuss with your optometrist if they diagnose this condition during a routine eye exam.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a prevalent disease that affects hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Scientists still aren’t sure what causes the condition other than  damage or progressive changes to the eye are frequently associated with abnormal eye pressure (in most types) which eventually damages the optic nerve.

The problem with glaucoma is that it often begins with little to no symptoms, and you probably won’t notice you have it until there is a severe risk for permanent damage. Vision loss cannot be recovered once the damage is done.

The best way to prevent this is through regular eye exams according to your optometrist’s recommendation based on your risk level. Performing a dilated eye exam will allow your optometrist to diagnose this disease early and get ahead of potential damage.

Additionally, sometimes glaucoma will start in one eye before developing in the other, but in almost all cases, both eyes are affected eventually. And if the disease is left untreated, it ultimately leads to loss of peripheral vision and eventual blindness

Symptoms of Glaucoma

In the early stages, you’ll likely experience next to no symptoms. As the disease progresses, you’ll encounter various symptoms depending on the type of glaucoma you have. 

Some common symptoms include:

Open-Angle Glaucoma

  • Splotchy or dark spots in your vision—often beginning with your peripheral vision
  • Blurry eyesight
  • Halos around lights—especially at night

Acute-Angle Closure Attack

  • Upset stomach or throwing up
  • Eye discomfort (potentially an emergency situation if it’s severe and sudden)
a man looks over the top of his glasses at his cellphone because he is experiencing blurred vision due to glaucoma

Types of Glaucoma

Two primary types of glaucoma are the most common: open angle and acute angle closure (or closed angle). But there are a couple of other possible types of glaucoma:

  • Open angle: This type of disease accounts for most glaucoma cases. With open-angle glaucoma, the drainage system in your eye isn’t working properly, which causes pressure to increase slowly.
  • Closed angle and acute angle closure attack: These types are less common but more serious. Symptoms typically progress quickly because the iris bulges and blocks drainage. This causes a rapid building of pressure. This can require emergency intervention to preserve your vision. 
  • Normal tension: With normal-tension glaucoma, your eye pressure stays within a normal range, but your optic nerve still sustains damage. Researchers are not sure what causes this type of glaucoma.
  • Pediatric: Typically, glaucoma is an age-related disease. However, sometimes a child can be born with it or develop it early in life.
  • Pigmentary: Occasionally, the pigment in your iris breaks apart. These tiny particles can become lodged in the drainage canals in your eye and cause pressure to build up.

Causes of Glaucoma

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, genetics play a key role in your risk of developing glaucoma—both ethnic origins and personal family history. In fact, if you have close relatives with glaucoma, you’re 4 to 9 times more likely to develop it. 

In addition, there are several other risk factors to be aware of:

  • Aging—especially past 60
  • African, Asian, or Hispanic ethnic roots
  • Underlying medical issues such as diabetes, blood pressure changes, or heart disease
  • Thin corneas
  • Extreme myopia or hyperopia (near and farsightedness)
  • Previous eye injury, trauma, or surgery
  • Excessive use of corticosteroid medications—especially long-term use of steroid eye drops

Treating Glaucoma

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. That’s why it’s critical that the disease be diagnosed as early as possible. Because as soon as it’s diagnosed, treatment can begin to help slow or stop the diseas progression.

A few treatment options include:

  • Medications such as eye drops meant to lower eye pressure.
  • Certain laser treatment options can reduce your eye pressure and minimize the chances of the optic nerve sustaining damage.
  • If laser treatment or medication can’t get a handle on the disease, there are several surgical options you can discuss with your eye doctor.

Preventing Glaucoma

Because there’s no cure, the ideal thing you can do is prevent glaucoma in the first place. While there is no way to 100% prevent it, there are several things you can do to help:

  • Get comprehensive eye exams according to your eye doctor’s recommendation
  • Prevent eye injury by wearing eye protection
  • Stay healthy by eating a healthy diet and exercising
  • If your eye doctor recommends ways to reduce eye pressure, follow their instructions.

Find Out More About Your Options

We only get one set of eyes, and once the damage is done, there is often no chance of repairing it. This is why you should always follow the minimum guidelines for eye exam frequency that the Canadian Association of Optometrists lays out unless your optometrist recommends an alternative schedule.

If you suspect you may be developing glaucoma or you need to book your annual eye exam, give us a shout today. The helpful staff at Okotoks Eyecare is happy to book you an appointment at a convenient time.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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