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Family History and Your Risk of Eye Disease

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.2 billion people—nearly one-third of the world’s population—are affected by some form of vision impairment or blindness. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma are two of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss worldwide. But did you know that your family history can also play a role in your risk for developing these conditions?

AMD is an eye disorder that affects your central vision, causing distortion, blurred vision, and eventually blindness. It is caused by damage to the macula, which is located in the center of the retina. People who have a family member with AMD are at a higher risk for developing the condition themselves. In fact, studies have shown that those with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with AMD are four times more likely to develop it than someone without any family history. Similarly, those with two first-degree relatives with AMD are up to nine times more likely to develop it themselves.

Glaucoma is an eye condition that damages the optic nerve, often resulting in partial or total blindness if left untreated. Like AMD, having a family member with glaucoma increases your risk for developing it as well; those who have one sibling with glaucoma are 4–9 times more likely to develop it too! In addition, if both parents have glaucoma, their children are 10–15 times more likely to develop it too.

The good news is that early detection and treatment can help preserve sight in individuals who are at high risk for developing these conditions due to family history. Regular eye exams and screenings allow for early diagnosis and treatment so that any damage can be minimized or even reversed before it becomes permanent.

Having a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with AMD or glaucoma increases an individual's risk significantly; however, regular eye exams enable us to catch these conditions early on so that we can take action before any irreversible damage occurs. If you have a family member who has been diagnosed with either of these conditions or if you experience any changes in your vision such as blurriness or distortion, make sure to schedule an appointment with your optometrist right away! You never know when catching early signs could save your sight!