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Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

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A close-up of a man presenting with glaucoma in his left eye.

Glaucoma, a progressive eye condition, can cause long-term damage to the eye and irreversible harm to the optic nerve. This condition often begins with few, if any, symptoms, and can only be properly diagnosed in its earliest stages with the help of an experienced optometrist. But why does this condition develop? Is glaucoma hereditary?

Glaucoma can be hereditary. If someone in your family has glaucoma, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself. But it’s important to note—while genetics play a role, they aren’t the only determining factor in how likely a person is to develop glaucoma.

Whether or not you have a family history of glaucoma, you should regularly visit the optometrist for comprehensive eye exams so they can monitor changes in your intraocular pressure and other possible signs of eye disease.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye condition that often develops due to a buildup of internal pressure in the eye. Your eye has a complex system where nutrients are brought in through the production of intraocular fluids, and then this fluid leaves through a drainage system. But if a problem develops with the drainage system, the pressure in your eye can begin to build, causing glaucoma.

Glaucoma begins with very few symptoms, if any, but eventually progresses to the point that the pressure causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve, responsible for transmitting images to your brain, is an extremely sensitive part of your vision system. If your intraocular pressure becomes too high, it begins to put pressure on this nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause long-term irreparable damage to the nerve.

There are several different types of glaucoma:

  • Open-angle glaucoma: The most common form, this occurs when the eye’s drainage system becomes clogged. Fortunately, this can be treated if diagnosed early.
  • Narrow-angle glaucoma: This happens when the area between the iris and the cornea closes off. This stops fluid from properly draining and begins increasing eye pressure, and needs medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Normal or low-tension glaucoma: This may happen when damage occurs to the optic nerve even though the eye’s pressure hasn’t significantly increased. This form is rarer and not fully understood.
  • Secondary glaucoma: Occurs when the cause of the increased intraocular pressure is due to something identifiable like an eye injury or significant inflammation.

There’s a key problem associated with glaucoma, though. Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, often develops slowly and without many noticeable symptoms. This is why it is often referred to as “the silent thief of sight.”

Symptoms of Glaucoma

In the early stages, glaucoma may not present any noticeable symptoms. However, as it progresses when left  untreated, gradual loss of peripheral vision  becomes more noticeable. 

It’s essential to remember, though—this symptom may not necessarily mean that you have glaucoma, but they are indicators that an eye exam is needed with the help of a trained optometrist.

Is Glaucoma a Genetic Disease?

If you have a family history of glaucoma, you’re more likely to develop this condition yourself. While glaucoma is considered a hereditary disease, genetics aren’t the only factor that can contribute to how likely you are to develop this condition. 

Your likelihood of developing glaucoma is also affected by:

  • Your age
  • Your ethnicity

However even with no risk factors mentioned, glaucoma can still be developed. 

Close-up of a senior man with glaucoma putting eye drops in his right eye.

How Is Glaucoma Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no existing cure for glaucoma. However, there are treatments available that can help slow or prevent further damage to your vision, depending on how severely the condition has progressed. 

An optometrist may recommend:

  • Specialty eye drops
  • Laser treatment
  • Glaucoma surgery

However, any lost vision can’t be restored. The optic nerve can’t regenerate the way some other parts of your body can, so it’s essential to detect and treat glaucoma as early as possible. With proactive care, it is possible to spot glaucoma before vision is lost.

Where to Get Help for Glaucoma

If you have a family history of glaucoma or have other risk factors for the disease, booking regular, comprehensive eye exams is essential.  

Regular eye exams every 1-2 years depending on your age and health are also essential for everyone even with no glaucoma risk factors.Come visit us at Brantford Eye Care so we help protect and care for your vision. Book an appointment today.

Written by Dr. Cynthia Markarian Bahoshy

How many doctors does it take to change a lightbulb?”

One or two.

Clear, comfortable vision is such an integral and important part of our lives. I enjoy interacting with our patients, learning about them and their visual needs and I get great satisfaction when I can improve their quality of life by providing them with optimal eyesight at the same time as screening for and treating potentially sight-threatening conditions.

I have been an optometrist at Brantford Eye Care (previously known as Dr. Robert Schumacher and associates) since 2002. I became the new owner of Brantford Eye Care in October 2012.

I attended the University of Ottawa where I studied Biochemistry as part of my undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree. I completed my Doctor of optometry (OD) degree at the University of Waterloo in 2002.

My externship was completed at the Houston Eye Associates in Texas. During that time, I gained extensive experience in all aspects of ocular health diagnosis and management. This included exposure to various retinal conditions, glaucoma, cataracts, children’s vision, binocular vision, and other aspects of ocular disease.

I worked as a student researcher at the Centre of Contact Lens Research at the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo where I gained extensive experience in all aspects of contact lenses. I also worked as a student researcher at the Ottawa General hospital in the Department of Ophthalmology during my university years.

I am an active member of the Ontario Association of Optometrists, The Canadian Association of Optometrists, the Ontario College of Optometrists, and the Hamilton and District Area Society of Optometrists. I am certified in the Treatment and Management of Ocular Diseases.

My main interests are in dry eyes, contact lenses, and in children’s vision. I have experience working as an optometrist at a Toronto LASIK centre and I am able to answer any questions you may have regarding LASIK and other refractive surgeries. We are affiliated with the various LASIK centres and can refer you for a complimentary LASIK consultation as well as perform your pre and post-op examinations at our office.

I enjoy many activities such as swimming, yoga, playing the piano, and spending time with my family. I enjoy solving visual issues and challenges and meeting new people.

I’ve been very fortunate to have met so many wonderful patients and families at our office. I enjoy being a part of Brantford’s health care team and look forward to seeing you at the office!

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