Genetics definitely play a role in many types of eye diseases and problems. On the upside, genetic strategies are leading to promising treatments for some conditions, including mutations associated with many ocular diseases including glaucoma, cataracts, strabismus, corneal dystrophies and forms of retinal degenerations causing blindness. If you know of family members that have certain eye diseases or disorders, it is vital that you learn more about the diseases so you can more easily spot any signs or symptoms.

Knowledge about genetic eye diseases has increased dramatically during the last twenty years. Although there are no global statistics which let us know the extent of the burden of visual impairment from genetic causes, there is some indication that genetic eye pathology represents a significant percentage of the causes of blindness in industrialised countries. More than 60 per cent of blindness in infants is caused by inherited eye diseases. Many patients who have a family history of certain types of eye diseases like strabismus (ocular misalignment), amblyopia (lazy eye) and refraction errors such as myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness) and astigmatism will likely develop them, but genetic ophthalmologists are working to identify the responsible genes.

For example, many people are unaware that cataracts can be inherited. A cataract, which is essentially the clouding of the eye’s clear lens, will cause blurriness and hazy vision. Gone untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. Although cataracts commonly develop in the aging process, they can also be caused by injury, certain diseases, medications, and genetic inheritance.

Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are the two leading causes of blindness in adults and children. Both diseases appear to be inherited in a large percentage of cases. Thankfully, genetic researchers are successfully mapping several genes for glaucoma and are now in the early stages of identifying the genes connected to macular degeneration. There is also progress with identifying the genes associated with other degenerative disease of the retina that lead to night blindness or gradual vision loss.

If you have a history of one of the eye diseases outlined above or have noticed any symptoms or potential signs, then be sure to make an appointment to visit your eye doctor right away.