Our genetics and DNA are magical things that help determine physical traits, such as your mother’s eye color or your father’s nose. Genetics and DNA also combine the mental prowess of our parents, allowing us to be similar to them yet wholly unique. DNA provides humans solid, indisputable proof that we are of the same blood as our biological parents and relatives. It is a unique connection with profound psychological impact.
Unfortunately, the complexity of our genes also may lend itself to some of our most glaring weaknesses. For some, it’s allergies such as pollen. For others, it may be physical, including several eye conditions. Knowing your family history of eye conditions can help prepare, prevent and properly treat any eye condition you experience in life. Below are common genetic eye conditions you should be aware of for yourself and your family.
Albino individuals have inherited their condition and as a result have pale, pink skin and very light hair. Not all albinism is the same, however, and that’s why the amount of pigment will vary from person to person. A person with albinism often has white or pink irises, causing sensitivity to bright light or impaired vision.
One of the most common eye conditions in the world, cataracts may or may not be hereditary, and also is dependent on age and/or environmental conditions. A cataract occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy over time. While not painful, it may blur images and dull colors. Common solutions to cataracts are revising your eyeglass prescription, anti-glare sunglasses or brighter lighting in the home. The only solution for the most advanced cataracts is surgery.
Those with cone-rod dystrophy experience a gradual loss of cones and rods in the retina. These are responsible for light sensitivity, color perception and peripheral vision. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cone-rod dystrophy.
When a person is suffering from glaucoma, it is because there is too much pressure inside the eye due to fluid buildup. The first symptoms noticed are usually a loss in peripheral vision. As the condition worsens, damage to the optic nerve and potentially blindness can occur. Vision lost this way is permanent. If glaucoma runs in your family, it is advisable to receive regular eye exams to prevent any vision loss. Special eye drops are most common for controlling the buildup of pressure.
Hyperopia is more commonly known as farsightedness and is due to light focusing behind the retina instead of on it. Close objects will appear blurry, often requiring a reader with hyperopia to need to hold a book further away than normal. Common solutions are glasses, contacts or corrective surgery, such as Lasik.
Macular degeneration is the onset of the middle of the retina breaking down. Consequently, centralized vision is compromised and makes standard tasks such as driving, reading, and recognizing faces difficult. While macular degeneration is often age-related, it also can be caused by genetic conditions, such as Stargardt Disease and Best Disease. Macular degeneration is not curable, but there are treatments to delay progression.
Myopia is more commonly known as nearsightedness. With myopia, light enters the eye and focuses in front of the retina instead of directly on it. Those who are nearsighted struggle with distant objects, e.g. highway signs or writing on a chalkboard. The precise distance varies from person to person. Squinting may help to see these objects, but can cause eyestrain and possibly headaches. Lasik surgery, eyeglasses and contact lenses are common solutions.
Usher Syndrome is arguably the most significant inherited condition listed here. It causes partial or total hearing loss, accompanied by vision loss over time, typically due to retinitis pigmentosa. Diagnosing Usher Syndrome as early as possible is crucial because, while there is no cure, it is important to properly train and educate people with the condition as early as possible.