Genetics and Eye Health: Inherited Diseases, Parenthood and Future Treatments


eye health

There are a number of different eye diseases that have been found to be hereditary, from common visual problems to more serious diseases such as glaucoma. Understanding the genetic factors involved in these types of diseases are key for parents when monitoring their child’s eyesight as early diagnosis could lead to better prevention.

In infants, 60 per cent of blindness cases are caused by inherited eye diseases, including eye malformations, optic atrophy, retinal degeneration, and glaucoma. And, unlike conditions such as short-sightedness, which can often be treated further down the line with things such as laser eye surgery, these types of diseases need identifying as quickly as possible. You can learn more about these treatments here.

Age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma are the two leading causes of blindness in adults and have been identified as being hereditary in a high proportion of cases. The genes involved in macular degeneration are currently being discovered by researchers while several genes for glaucoma have already been recorded. Major progress has already been made towards the treatment of degenerative disease of the retina (retinitis pigmentosa) as several of the genes involved in this disease (which can lead to vision loss and eventually blindness) have also been identified by researchers.

Genetics in Common Visual Problems

With new evidence, it has been determined that many visual problems that occur in eyes that are deemed ‘healthy’ can be linked to genetics. These include astigmatism, hyperopia (long-sightedness) myopia (short-sightedness), amblyopia (a lazy eye) and strabismus (cross-eyes).

For these types of problems, early diagnosis is key, which is why parents are urged to take their children for eye tests. Several problems can be identified in children as young as four and this early diagnosis helps to ensure the child receives the right treatment to prevent it from getting worse. Parents with common and serious eye problems should be particularly cautious of their child’s eye health, being vigilant for any early warning signs.

Eliminating Eye Disease through Genetic Manipulation

As scientists continue to battle to find ways to remove the risk of children developing the same diseases as their parents, several breakthroughs have been made with genetic manipulation. By editing the genes that cause these hereditary genes they could eliminate the chance of this being passed onto children, and this includes certain forms of genetic blindness.

In an essay for the New England Journal of Medicine, Eric. S. Lander (professor at Harvard Medical School) suggested that progressive blindness caused by an inherited gene could be prevented by inactivating this specific gene in the eye’s retinal cells. This technique was tested in a recent experiment on rats that had been bred to develop retinitis pigmentosa. They were then treated to prevent this form of blindness from being passed onto their offspring.

Due to the complications involved in changing genetics, scientists are approaching these types of treatments with caution. However, Lander does suggest that with the ongoing advancements in technology, these types of hereditary diseases could be stopped in their tracks in the future.

[info_box type=”pale_box”]Lara Hall works as a nurse but is currently on maternity leave as she prepares for her daughter to arrive in this world. Lara is enjoying writing articles for health and parenting sites in this quiet time before baby arrives.[/info_box]

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  1. This is really interesting. Eye health often goes unattended to, and that can be really dangerous. I’m glad to see you are aware of the risks! Nice work! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. Thanks for the input!
    Eyes are light to wisdom, it bring live to the mind and would, therefore, it’s very important to take care of the eyes if we still want to be active and productive. we often neglect caring for the eyes while we’re young only to become old and start battling with eye problems. the generation of today are likely to develop more sight problems become of exposure to light pollution, toxic gases etc

  3. I had no idea genetic manipulation existed for eye diseases and blindness. I can’t wait to see what progress develops over the next few years with these findings. Thanks for sharing!

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