Blog Hero

Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

Book Appointment
An older adult is being examined for signs of glaucoma.

Glaucoma, often referred to as the “silent thief of sight,” is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve. If left untreated, it can lead to gradual vision loss and, if left untreated, blindness. It is also one of the leading causes of blindness in Canada. 

Glaucoma is primarily caused by elevated intraocular pressure, which can damage the optic nerve. However, glaucoma can also occur in individuals with normal eye pressure, indicating that the optic nerve’s susceptibility to damage varies. 

Glaucoma also has a hereditary component. The risk of developing glaucoma increases if family members are affected, as it is often linked to genetic factors. 

With its insidious nature, early detection with an eye exam and treatment are crucial in managing this condition. 

Understanding Glaucoma

Before delving into the genetic aspects, let’s understand glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of conditions characterized by increased intraocular pressure, which can lead to optic nerve damage. This nerve is crucial for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain. 

Without early detection and treatment, the progressive damage to the optic nerve may result in vision loss or even blindness. Often, glaucoma develops silently, with many individuals remaining unaware of the condition until it has advanced significantly. 

Regular eye exams are essential for early detection and management of glaucoma, helping to preserve vision.

Genetic Factors

Glaucoma, particularly the primary open-angle type, has a genetic component, making it more likely for individuals with a family history of the condition to develop it themselves. This correlation suggests that genetics play a significant role in the disease’s transmission.

Certain gene mutations, such as those in the MYOC gene associated with early-onset glaucoma, can elevate an individual’s susceptibility. However, having a family history of glaucoma does not guarantee its development. It underscores the importance of being aware of one’s familial eye health history and the necessity for regular eye exams. 

Types of Glaucoma with Genetic Links

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma (POAG) 

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma, the most common kind of glaucoma, flies under the radar. It occurs when the eye’s drainage channels gradually become blocked. 

This blockage slowly increases the pressure inside your eye, but it’s a gradual increase in pressure, which you might not notice until your vision begins to take a hit. 

Several genes have been identified that are associated with an increased risk of developing POAG.

Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma (PACG) 

Primary Angle-Closure Glaucoma is when your eye’s drainage canals get blocked off quickly because of a sudden shift in the iris. 

This type of glaucoma can quickly increase the pressure inside your eye, and it might even give you a heads-up with some symptoms like sudden vision issues, eye pain, or seeing halos around lights. 

While less common, PACG also has genetic predispositions. Studies have identified specific gene variations linked to an increased risk of PACG.

Juvenile Glaucoma

A young girl being checked for juvenile glaucoma.

Juvenile glaucoma presents a significant deviation from the typical onset age associated with glaucoma, targeting children and adolescents. 

This early emergence necessitates heightened awareness and vigilance regarding eye health in younger populations. Unlike its counterparts, which generally affect older adults, Juvenile Glaucoma introduces the challenge of managing increased intraocular pressure at a much earlier stage in life. 

Genetic factors can play a significant role in these cases as well.

Genetic Testing & Screening

As the field of genetics advances, our understanding of glaucoma and its genetic underpinnings is expanding, offering new avenues for early detection and prevention. 

Researchers have identified numerous genes and genetic markers that may signal an increased risk of developing glaucoma well before any clinical symptoms emerge. This progress in genetic research is paving the way for more targeted screening strategies that could potentially identify individuals at heightened risk for this condition.

It is important to note that while genetic testing for glaucoma shows great promise, it remains a tool to aid, rather than replace, conventional diagnostics and monitoring methods. The journey towards integrating genetic testing into standard glaucoma care is ongoing, and it requires a collaborative effort between patients, healthcare professionals, and researchers. 

Navigating the Genetic Landscape of Glaucoma

While genetics play a crucial role in the development of glaucoma, it’s not the sole determinant. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and other medical conditions contribute to an individual’s overall risk. Therefore, individuals with a family history of glaucoma should be vigilant about regular eye exams to detect and manage the condition early. 

Additionally, ongoing research into the genetic underpinnings of glaucoma holds promise for improved diagnostics and treatment strategies in the future.

Understanding the genetic factors behind glaucoma can help individuals take proactive steps to protect their vision and overall eye health. Early detection through regular eye exams with St. Clair Eye Clinic and lifestyle modifications can all contribute to better management of this sight-threatening condition. Contact us today to book your next appointment!

Written by Dr. Neel Vyas

instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax