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Is Your Eye Health Inherited?

Children may literally see the world the same way their parents view it.

Ophthalmic genetic researchers have found that genetics determine the most common vision problems among children and adults. In the past 15 years alone, genetic experts have identified approximately 500 genes that contribute to hereditary eye conditions.

Inherited Conditions

Common conditions that can be handed down from parents to children include refractive errors such as nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism (an irregularly shaped cornea), as well as color blindness and amblyopia (lazy eye). Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration also seem to be influenced by genetics. Approximately 10 percent of primary congenital/infantile glaucoma cases are hereditary.

If both parents are farsighted, a child has a greater chance of also being hyperopic. A comprehensive optometric examination is needed for an accurate diagnosis.

Although the tendency to develop nearsightedness may be inherited, its actual development may also be affected by how a person uses her eyes. Spending time on a computer or doing intense close visual work could make it more likely for someone to develop nearsightedness.

Color blindness is another hereditary condition. While it rarely occurs in women, experts estimate one in 10 men have some form of the condition.

Early Detection

Parents who began wearing glasses in very early childhood should take their children for a full eye examination by the age of three years. Children of a parent with a serious eye disease, such as eye tumors, cataracts or childhood glaucoma, should be seen in infancy by a pediatric ophthalmologist. Early detection is critical in helping correct vision problems.

To determine a child’s refractive error, special drops are used to relax the focus and dilate the pupil of the eye. The doctor then uses a special machine, or hand-held light and lenses, to determine the actual refractive state of the eye, so that he can determine if correction is needed.

It can be helpful to sketch out your family tree to identify other family members affected by vision problems and to provide a complete picture of potential genetic disorders. If you or your child’s pediatrician suspects a problem with your child’s vision, eye alignment or eye appearance, you should schedule a comprehensive evaluation. Information from previous eye examinations, general medical history and a current examination can help the ophthalmologist determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. In consultation with a doctor, you can determine the cause of vision problems and select the treatment that best meets your child’s visual and lifestyle needs.