Eye problems: hereditary or is your environment to blame?



Some vision problems are genetic, but others are influenced by the environment and your lifestyle. Thick curly hair, a distinct nose shape, disarming blue eyes – these are some of the things that exist in families. Unfortunately, the same is true for myopia and hyperopia. But not all eye problems are genetic; they can also be caused by environmental problems. A healthy lifestyle is integral to maintaining healthy vision as you get older. The healthier you are, the better your chances of avoiding damage to your eyesight.

Understand how genes, environmental issues, and lifestyle habits can affect your eye health.

According to Dr. Yolandie Coetzee of Envison Sight, many of the leading causes of blindness are linked to genetic factors. Hereditary eye diseases cause over 60% of blindness in infants. These include:

  • Congenital cataracts
  • Congenital glaucoma
  • Retinal degeneration
  • Optic atrophy
  • Eye dysfunctions
  • Fundus dystrophies (condition characterized by loss of central vision)
  • Myopia and hyperopia

However, she points out that it is almost impossible to determine whether genetics or environmental factors are to blame for the eye disorders, because the problem is so complex.

“In adults, diseases like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration – both of which are the main causes of blindness – can be the result of a mixture of genetic and environmental factors. Diabetes – which can be caused by a combination of genetic factors, family history, health, and environmental factors, such as lifestyle – is a leading cause of eye disease, including diabetic retinopathy, l Diabetic macular edema (DME), cataracts and glaucoma. Click on here to find out about the aging process of the eyes – and how to slow it down.

How will your family’s sight history affect your children?

If you are curious about your family’s visual history and how it might affect your children, it is advisable to see an ophthalmologist. “You can also look at the prevalence of eye disease in your family,” says Coetzee. “The genes for certain diseases have been widely mapped to genetic testing and are believed to be an excellent predictor of a disease such as inherited retinal disease.” Researchers have mapped several genetic risk factors for glaucoma.


These genes were found by genetically sequencing the DNA of families with the genetic disease. “It’s extremely complex and relies on finding the same needle in multiple haystacks,” says Coetzee. “To make it even more complex, penetrance (the extent to which a particular gene or set of genes is expressed in the phenotypes of the individuals who carry it) can vary. This means that you will not necessarily have the disease even if you have the gene. Genetic testing can be a powerful tool in specific diseases like familial open-angle juvenile glaucoma, where care can be better optimized, according to a US glaucoma study.

There are around 250 genes that cause inherited retinal disease. In South Africa, myopia, glaucoma, acute macular degeneration and diabetes are the main causes of vision loss. They all have a large genetic component, according to Coetzee. “While there isn’t much that can be done to prevent a gene from inheriting, research in gene therapy has exploded over the past 15 years.

The human retina is ideal for the evaluation of gene and cell therapy due to its accessibility for monitoring, imaging and surgical manipulation. Luxturna, a single-use gene therapy treatment, was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration on December 19, 2017. It is used to improve vision in patients with genetic vision loss due to congenital amaurosis de Leber or retinitis pigmentosa, both retinal. dystrophies. Clinical trials involving retinal gene therapy are creating hope for future therapies for other retinal diseases.

How diet, lifestyle and environment can affect eye health

Although poor eyesight is often hereditary, the number of people with nearsightedness – which has a strong genetic component – has nearly doubled over the past decade. Coetzee says time spent in front of computers and cellphones could be a major contributing factor to eye problems such as nearsightedness.

“According to some epidemiological studies, spending time outdoors during infancy also reduces the onset of myopia, or nearsightedness, which has become more prevalent in recent years. This is just one example of how lifestyle rather than genetics can affect your eye health.

Coetzee says that in general, a healthy lifestyle is important for maintaining good eyesight. “Poor diet, smoking, and an unhealthy BMI (body mass index) can increase your chances of developing age-related macular degeneration. That is why it is important to eat a healthy diet and manage body weight, not to smoke, and to exercise regularly.

For patients with glaucoma, a vegan diet and regular physical activity can also help reduce pressure on the eyes. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can help reduce vision loss associated with aging. It is also important to take preventive measures. This may include protecting your eyes from the sun’s UV rays to prevent the development of cataracts.

How else can you prevent eye disease?

  • Find out if your doctor offers genetic testing.
  • Have regular eye exams to look for changes in the blood vessels or the retina that indicate diabetic retinopathy.
  • Have your eyes tested regularly. This way, you can prevent yourself from having more problems in the future.

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