Written by Professor Jamie Craig
NHMRC Practitioner Fellow and Clinician Scientist at Flinders University Centre for Ophthalmology, Eye and Vision Research
It has long been known that there is a strong hereditary component to most forms of glaucoma. Recently, much progress has been made in starting to unravel which specific genes account for the heritable tendencies of open angle glaucoma, pseudo-exfoliation syndrome, and even angle closure glaucoma. The situation is complex, with mutations in some genes having a large effect on an individual and their family members, and others contributing just a small but important increase in susceptibility.
In our Australian population, primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is the most common form of the disease. The key to preventing vision loss in glaucoma is early diagnosis, and appropriate treatment which involves topical therapies (eye drops), various forms of laser, or in the most serious cases, surgical procedures to reduce intraocular pressure (IOP). A major impediment to early diagnosis is the lack of symptoms in early stage disease. Many patients will not notice the gradual loss of their vision until the disease is in the advanced stage, with irreversible loss of vision.
One important strategy for early detection is to encourage family members of those known to be affected to be screened on a regular basis.
What is known about the importance of family history in glaucoma?
Educating affected individuals about the hereditary nature of glaucoma, and encouraging them to suggest that their close family members be screened is very important.
My relative has glaucoma, what does this mean for me?
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