Know Your Family Health History and Glaucoma Risk
Annual comprehensive eye exams can prevent glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness, from causing irreversible eye damage.
November 23 Is National Family Health History Day
Families pass down many positive traits and attributes, but they can also pass down complicated medical conditions. National Family Health History Day is Nov. 23. Knowing your predisposition for health and eye conditions can help you make informed decisions about screening and prevention. Regular checkups with your eye doctor can protect you and your family from eye conditions that deteriorate your vision.
Glaucoma, the Sneak Thief of Sight
Vision loss does not have to be painful or even noticeable. Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that damages the optic nerve and reduces the visual field. Some people with glaucoma experience symptoms like pain, blurred vision and sensitivity to light, but many are asymptomatic. Instead, they slowly lose their peripheral vision until they become blind. That is why glaucoma is aptly named “the sneak thief of sight” because it can be painless and often does not have warning signs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half know they have it. Both heredity and age can contribute to your glaucoma risk. People older than 50 should get tested for glaucoma at least annually, even with perfect vision.
Know Your Risk for Hereditary Glaucoma
If you have a family member with glaucoma, you should get screened earlier. Genetic mutations can cause inherited glaucoma, affecting the eye’s drainage system and internal ocular pressure (IOP). Some ethnicities like Latinos, African Americans, Asians and Scandinavians have an increased disease risk. There are several types of hereditary glaucoma:
- Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) — This is the most common type of glaucoma. Optic nerve damage increases IOP and slowly deteriorates vision. Individuals of African descent may be more likely to develop POAG.
- Primary angle-closure glaucoma — When the eye’s drainage system gets blocked, it can increase inner eye pressure. People of Asian descent are at increased risk.
- Pigmentary glaucoma — Pigment can also accumulate in the eye’s drainage system, and this can increase IOP and cause glaucoma.
- Congenital glaucoma — This can develop at birth if the eye drainage system develops abnormally. This type of glaucoma is rare but can be inherited (Glaucoma Research Foundation).
Collect Your Family Health History during the Holidays
The holidays are a perfect time to gather health information from your family members. Knowing your risk for health and eye conditions means you can be proactive and talk to your doctor about scheduling screenings at appropriate times.
Try not to view information gathering as scary. Just because you have a family member with glaucoma does not mean you will inherit the disease. Informing yourself is a wise decision, and it will only help you. If you are not sure where to start, try these simple steps:
- Talk to your family members about chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and eye disease, and ask when doctors diagnosed the conditions.
- Ask questions about family ancestry. Certain races and ethnicities are prone to specific conditions.
- Record the information and update it regularly.
- Share your family health history with your family members and your doctors.
Make an Eye Appointment before the End of the Year
National Family Health History Day falls on Thanksgiving Day this year. What an appropriate way to give thanks for loved ones and good health. You can show gratitude for clear vision by making an annual appointment for a comprehensive eye exam. Take your family health history to your appointment and ask your doctor if you need to be more vigilant in screening for specific eye conditions.