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Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

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Your eyes are the windows to your life. Protecting your vision and ocular health requires regular exams and an understanding of your medical history.

Glaucoma is a disease that can threaten your vision if left untreated. Understanding the disease, symptoms, and treatments can help you protect your eyes for years to come. 

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that occur when the pressure inside the eye causes damage to the optic nerve. It’s one of the leading causes of blindness in people over the age of 60, but it can develop at any age. This is why regular eye exams are critical for preserving your vision. 

Most forms of glaucoma begin developing without any symptoms. Usually, the progression of the disease is so gradual that by the time patients notice changes in their vision, it’s too late to reverse the effects of the disease.

If glaucoma is caught early, the progression of the disease can be slowed or even prevented. 

Types of Glaucoma

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma occurs when the trabecular meshwork is partially blocked, creating pressure inside the eye. 

The trabecular meshwork is made of spongy tissue and lies near the cornea, allowing aqueous humor to drain from the eye as needed. When this is interrupted, the fluid inside the eye can begin to build, resulting in damage to the optic nerve.

This is the most common form of glaucoma and it develops gradually over time.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma, or closed-angle glaucoma, occurs when the iris (coloured part of the eye) bulges forward, narrowing or blocking the drainage angle. When the drainage angle is blocked, fluid can’t circulate in the eye, and pressure within the eye rapidly builds. 

Angle-closure glaucoma may occur gradually (chronic angle-closure glaucoma) or suddenly (acute angle-closure glaucoma) which is a medical emergency

An older man putting his hands over his eyes, underneath his glasses

Normal-Tension Glaucoma

Normal-tension glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve becomes damaged, but the pressure within the eye is normal. The cause of normal-tension glaucoma is still unknown. It could be a result of a highly sensitive optic nerve or a lack of blood flow to the optic nerve. 

This form of glaucoma is less common. 

Glaucoma in Children

It’s possible for babies and children to develop glaucoma. Some children are born with the disease and others can develop the disease during their early years of life. The optic nerve may be damaged from drainage blockages as a result of an underlying condition. 

Pigmentary Glaucoma

Pigmentary glaucoma occurs when pigment granules from the iris accumulate in the drainage angle. This can slow or stop fluid from moving out of the eye, resulting in excess pressure inside the eyeball.

Signs, Symptoms, & Causes of Glaucoma

The signs and symptoms of glaucoma can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Generally, glaucoma is characterized by:

  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe headache
  • Patchy blind spots
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Halos around lights

If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. The true cause of glaucoma is still uncertain, but this disease tends to be hereditary. Genetics have been linked to high pressure inside the eye and optic nerve damage. 

Some factors that can put you at higher risk of developing glaucoma include:

  • Being 60+
  • Having thin corneas
  • Being Black, Asian, or Hispanic
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Being extremely nearsighted or farsighted
  • Having high internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
  • Taking certain medications, such as corticosteroid eye drops
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease

Prevention & Treatment

While glaucoma can be a very serious condition, there are treatments and prevention strategies you can put in place to protect your eyes and preserve your vision.

Get Regular Eye Exams

Regular eye exams are the best way to protect your eyes. Glaucoma can be detected early with dilated eye exams which your optometrist can discuss with you. By catching glaucoma early, you can prevent long-term damage to your vision.

Know Your History

Glaucoma tends to run in families. Understanding your family’s medical history can help you protect against diseases like glaucoma. You may need more frequent eye exams after age 40 if glaucoma runs in your genes.

Practice Safe Exercise

Strenuous activity can cause pigment granules in your iris to deposit in the drainage channels of your eyes. Regular, moderate exercise can help prevent glaucoma by reducing eye pressure. 

Use Prescribed Eye Drops

Your optometrist may prescribe eye drops to help manage glaucoma. Take these eye drops as directed. 

Wear Protective Eyewear

Certain injuries or eye surgeries can lead to glaucoma. Protect your eyes from sunshine and potential injury by wearing the right eyewear when you’re outside or participating in physical activity. Talk to your optometrist about the right eyewear for you. 

Take Medication as Directed

If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, your optometrist may prescribe certain medications. Always take your medications as directed.

Laser Treatments & Surgery

There are some treatments and surgeries that can help manage glaucoma. Laser therapy, filtering surgery, or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) may be recommended by your eye doctor to prevent the progression of glaucoma. 

When To See Your Doctor

If you experience any symptoms of glaucoma or have a family history of the disease, visit your optometrist for an eye exam and discuss prevention and treatment options that work for your eyes. 

Contact us today to book your next appointment!

Written by Dr. Irene Mestito-Dao

Practicing 24 years since she graduated from the New England College of Optometry in Boston, Dr. Mestito-Dao is one of our owners and Optometrists. She joined Henderson Vision Centre 20 years ago and is an experienced and accomplished member of our team. Dr. Mestito-Dao is a dedicated mother of two. A self-described “dance and stage mom,” you can find her at various dance events and behind the scenes as she encourages her daughters to pursue their passions. An interesting note, Dr. Mestito-Dao was the first Filipino to practice Optometry in Manitoba. She is a true leader and aspires to inspire people from all walks of life to pursue their ambitions and realize their dreams.

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