What eye issues are hereditary?
Eye problems can be the result of many different causes. Sometimes it is a consequence of the natural ageing process, or an injury or trauma to the eye area. Other times it's an infection or complications from other diseases that causes problems, but some eye issues are also hereditary. A wide variety of eye diseases and issues can be passed on through the genetic material of parents. These are just a few of the most common conditions known to have a hereditary link.
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve in the eye, the part that sends visual signals from the back of the eye (retina), to the brain for processing. It gets progressively worse over time and is usually inherited. In some cases it will be present from birth but in others, symptoms may not start presenting until later on in life. The condition is usually associated with an accumulation of pressure inside the eye called intraocular pressure, which leads to the damage of the optic nerve. The pressure builds up when fluid in the eye isn't able to flow freely through the appropriate channel and becomes blocked. Regular eye tests are crucial for identifying this issue because most people don't experience any early symptoms or warning signs of pain. If the condition is left untreated, it can cause permanent loss of vision within a few years. Certain factors also increase your risk for glaucoma, such as poor vision, diabetes and some types of steroid medications. Once glaucoma has been diagnosed by your optometrist, there are a variety of treatment options available. Eye drops can help to normalise the flow of fluid in the eye, while laser surgery can be one way to either increase the outflow of fluid or get rid of a blockage. Sometimes a microsurgical operation will be recommended, which involves creating a new channel for the fluid to drain into safely.
Strabismus and amblyopia
Scientists have also discovered a hereditary link for two conditions that can be fairly common in children: strabismus and amblyopia. Strabismus or crossed eyes occurs when the muscles surrounding each eye don't work together in tandem, which can result in the eyes looking in separate directions. Because of this, the brain will receive competing visual information from each eye and over time it may start to ignore the signals received from the weaker eye. If left untreated, it can progress into amblyopia or lazy eye, where the eye that is ignored by the brain exhibits a much weaker level of vision and does not develop fully. Sometimes the order may be reversed where amblyopia (lazy eye) presents first and then causes strabismus (stray eye) to occur. Either way, a family history of the conditions is often identified as a risk factor. The two issues may be present at birth or they might occur later on in life. For amblyopia, treatment involves correcting the vision in the weaker eye and then placing a patch on the stronger or normal one so that the brain is forced to start using the visual information from the amblyopic eye. For strabismus, glasses and patching may also be used to help improve vision. If the condition is only at a mild level, eye muscle exercises combined with the correct glasses prescription can help to straighten the eyes. In more severe cases, eye muscle surgery might be advised - this makes certain muscles stronger or weaker in order to help the eyes focus together. Other types of vision conditions such as near- or long-sightedness, astigmatism and colour blindness are also often inherited. To find out more information on your own family history risks, see a qualified optometrist.
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