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  • Writer's pictureRichard Kadri-Langford

Do genetics play a role in glaucoma development?

Glaucoma is a collective name for a group of conditions which together are the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide.

Characterised by damage to the optic nerves which leads to progressive sight loss, glaucoma is often not diagnosed until a measure of sight loss has already occurred. And yet, caught in time, measures can often be taken to reduce or prevent further damage.

It, therefore, pays to be aware of the potential causes of glaucoma. And one of these comes down to your genes.

Researchers estimate that the risk factors for the most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), increase dramatically if there is a family history of glaucoma.

So much so that the risk increases by a factor of ten for 60% of those diagnosed with glaucoma whose family members also had the condition. [1] And for those who develop the condition in childhood or before the age of 35, the family genetic risk can be even higher. [2]

Now that doesn’t mean that a relevant family history will automatically lead to glaucoma. But it does mean that those whose relatives or direct ancestors had glaucoma would do well to ensure that they and their children have regular eye examinations.

There is another factor to take into consideration. As researchers uncover more and more genes which can be linked to glaucoma susceptibility, they also warn about genetic links to other conditions which could lead to glaucoma.

For example conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure can also increase the risk of developing glaucoma.

And here again a family history of a condition such as diabetes, for example, could increase the chances of an individual developing diabetes which itself can lead to an increased risk of glaucoma.

What this illustrates is the importance of not only understanding the potential risk factors for glaucoma but also the genetic potential for developing the condition either directly or as a consequence of developing another condition. Scientists are working hard on identifying the potential link between a range of genetic mutations and glaucoma including how those mutations can cause glaucoma to arise.

As one article commented; as more information comes to hand, the hope is that eventually treatments can be developed which are targeted at each specific gene mutation type.[3] In the meantime, we can all play our part in ensuring that we have regular sight checks, particularly if we have a family history of glaucoma.

Occuity is working on the PM1, the world's only non-contact, handheld pachymeter, to allow both clinicians and technicians to take a corneal centre thickness (CCT) measurement quickly and easily. Assisting in the earlier, faster, and more accurate screening of glaucoma, allowing patients to prevent vision loss through timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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