There are many good things passed down from one generation to the next. Some include physical attributes like facial features, personality traits like a great sense of humor or the motivation to succeed, and even material riches. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to inherit medical conditions, including glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, which can lead to vision loss or blindness. While glaucoma can occur due to various factors, including age, high intraocular pressure (IOP), and eye injuries, genetics can also play a significant role.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month — an excellent opportunity to learn about the risk factors that may make you more susceptible to glaucoma, including your family history. Continue reading to learn more about glaucoma and the risks for people who have family members with glaucoma.
What Is Hereditary Glaucoma?
Hereditary glaucoma, also known as inherited glaucoma, is passed down from one generation to another through genetic inheritance. It’s caused by mutations in specific genes responsible for the development and function of the eye’s drainage system, or outflow, which helps regulate the eye’s IOP.
IOP is the pressure inside the eye and is maintained by the balance between the production and drainage of the aqueous humor, a clear fluid that fills the front part of the eye. When the drainage system is not functioning correctly, the IOP can become elevated, leading to damage to the optic nerve and vision loss.
Types of Hereditary Glaucoma
There are several types of hereditary glaucoma, and the specific type can depend on the genetic mutations. Some common types include:
- Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma (POAG)
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma, characterized by a gradual loss of vision due to damage to the optic nerve. POAG is generally caused by an increase in IOP, which can be due to various factors, including genetics. It is much more common in people of African descent.
- Congenital Glaucoma
Congenital glaucoma is present at birth and is caused by abnormal eye drainage system development. It’s a rare form of glaucoma that can be inherited from a person’s parents.
- Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma
Primary angle-closure glaucoma is caused by a blockage in the eye’s drainage system, leading to an increase in IOP. It can be hereditary and is more common in people of Asian descent.
- Pigmentary Glaucoma
Pigmentary glaucoma is caused by the accumulation of pigment in the eye’s drainage system, leading to a blockage and an increase in IOP. It can be inherited and is less common in people of African descent.
Risk Factors for Hereditary Glaucoma
There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing hereditary glaucoma, including:
- Family History
People with a family history of glaucoma, especially a parent or sibling, are at an increased risk.
Some ethnicities, like African Americans, Latinos, and people of Scandinavian descent, have an increased risk.
The risk of developing glaucoma increases with age and is more common in people over 60.
- Other Medical Conditions
Certain medical conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and hypothyroidism, can increase a person’s risk of developing glaucoma.
If you have a family history of glaucoma, it is essential to let your ophthalmologist know as soon as possible. If family members have lost vision or become blind due to glaucoma, it’s even more important to take action so you can catch it at an early stage. Sharing your family history of glaucoma with your doctor can help them be on the lookout for early signs of the condition and take the necessary steps to treat it.
If you have glaucoma, let your family members know about your condition and encourage them to have a comprehensive dilated eye examination — the best way to detect glaucoma.
Help Us Find a Cure
The diligent work of researchers continues to lead to a better understanding of glaucoma daily. As a result, there’s great hope for new and improved treatments, including superior drug delivery methods, laser treatments, and less invasive surgical techniques. While there’s no cure for glaucoma, advancements in research, like the smart contact lens, continue to bring us closer to finding a cure and restoring vision loss from glaucoma.
Your donations of cash, stock, or a vehicle support the efforts of dedicated researchers working to find a cure for glaucoma. Every contribution helps bring us closer to finding a cure for glaucoma. You can help make it happen!
Posted January 17, 2023. This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Sandra Sieminski, MD.
Sandra F. Sieminski, MD
Sandra Sieminski, MD is a glaucoma and cataract specialist at the Ross Eye Institute and is the Director of Glaucoma Services. She also serves as the Clinical Vice Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Ophthalmology Clerkship Director for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University at Buffalo/State University of New York (SUNY).