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Professor David Mackey & Dr Samantha Sze-Yee Lee
August 2021

Glaucoma can present in anyone – whether your family members had it or not. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that scientists realised glaucoma is commonly an inherited disease. Thus, people who have relatives with glaucoma are more likely to develop glaucoma. In fact, their glaucoma risk is up to 10 times higher than someone with no family history. But does higher risk means more severe glaucoma too?

image of three generations of family

In the Glaucoma Inheritance Study in Tasmania we examined 1700 people with glaucoma and found that 60% had a family history of glaucoma. This 60% not only tended to have more severe disease, but also tended to be diagnosed at a slightly younger age (~61 years old) compared to those with no known family history (diagnosed at ~64 years). 

We may argue that the earlier age at diagnosis in those with a family history is likely because of an increased awareness of the condition, which is a motivating factor for regular eye checks. However, an earlier diagnosis should also mean less severe glaucoma as early treatment is key to preventing vision loss. However, this was not what we observed in the study. This suggests that familial glaucoma may be more severe. 

Hence, it is very important that individuals who have biological parents or siblings with glaucoma have their eyes checked regularly.

Article by Professor David Mackey
Ophthalmologist
Genetics and Epidemiology Group at the Lions Eye Institute, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Western Australia.
Article by Dr Samantha Sze-Yee Lee
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Genetics and Epidemiology Group at the Lions Eye Institute, Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Western Australia.