Is poor eyesight all down to your genes?
16 May 2019
Is your eyesight inherited from your parents?
We all know that many of our characteristics are inherited from our parents, from our hair and eye colour down to the shape of our nose. They might also pass down certain personality traits or athletic and academic abilities, but what about other aptitudes? Studies have shown that myopic (short-sighted) parents are much more likely to have children who also go on to develop myopia. The same applies to parents with hyperopia (long-sightedness) too, as both refractive disorders are caused by inherited genetic markers. In fact, most common vision problems can be attributed to genetics.
If a person has two near-sighted parents, there is a 1 in 3 chance that they will develop myopia. If only one parent is near-sighted, the chances are 1 in 5, and without either parent being near-sighted, the chance of their child developing myopia is 1 in 40. It’s clear to see that your genes have an impact on your need for glasses, although research on inherited long-sightedness is limited and knowledge in the area is still developing. Presbyopia is age-related long-sightedness which usually develops in a person’s 40s. As you age, the natural lens in your eye becomes thicker and less flexible, making it harder for the lens to adjust to read small, close-up print. This condition affects most adults aged 40 and older, although the age at which it occurs – and the severity – may mirror the experience your parents had with presbyopia.
Can you inherit eye diseases?
Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are the two main causes of blindness in adults, and research has shown that these are far more likely to be inherited than to occur randomly. Glaucoma is the build-up of fluid in the eye which increases eye pressure and damages the optic nerve, potentially leading to blindness. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you are up to 9 times more likely to develop it yourself. You can decrease your risk of glaucoma by maintaining a healthy weight, limiting caffeine levels to keep eye pressure low, and getting daily exercise.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is also, unfortunately, usually a hereditary condition. It is when the small central part of the retina begins to deteriorate, leading to vision loss or wavy and blurred vision. You are 3-4 times more likely to develop AMD if you have a parent or sibling with the condition but, again, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of developing it. Giving up smoking reduces your risk by 2-3 times, as does eating omega-3 acids, and controlling your blood pressure and cholesterol. While you can’t reverse the fact that you have these genes, you can try to reduce your level of risk in other ways.
Strabismus is another eye condition which is thought to be inherited from your parents. This is where one eye is turned in a different direction from the other eye and occurs because the person affected has weaker eye muscles. 40% of patients with strabismus also have family members with the condition and research is currently being conducted to identify the genetic links between parents and children with strabismus. Strabismus can often be corrected with eye surgery, vision therapy or eye patches and, generally, the younger the patient, the better the chances of successful correction.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a degenerative disease of the retina causing vision loss gradually over a long period of time. It also causes night blindness and tunnel vision – which are among the first symptoms of RP – before central vision is lost too. Research has shown that the condition is caused by gene mutation, which can occur either randomly, or be passed down from parent to child via an X chromosome. If both parents carry the RP gene, their child has a 25% chance of being affected, and an additional 50% chance of being a carrier, even if they’re not affected themselves. It’s estimated that 1 in 3,500 people suffer from RP, and countless more are thought to be carriers of the mutated gene in question.
What can you do?
While we can’t fight our genes, taking care of our eyes is our responsibility. Good eye health is something which a lot of us take for granted and we likely don’t know the true value of our vision until it begins to deteriorate. We have an article on maintaining good eye health which you may find useful. It’s also important to know about the history of eye diseases in your family to understand your individual risk of developing particular conditions. Ensure that your lifestyle and diet are not damaging your eyesight – keep checking our blog for new content all about eye health.
You should also have regular eye tests every two years to ensure that any potentially dangerous eye conditions are picked up quickly. If you book in for a free consultation with us, our optometrists will conduct a full eye test for you to establish your suitability for laser eye or lens surgery. This will also identify any potential problems and allow you to understand your eye health completely. Get in touch to see how we can help you!
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