Does Your Family History Put You At Risk For These 3 Top Causes Of Blindness?

There are many things that our families pass down to us that we cherish, such as holiday traditions or a favorite recipe or heirloom. There are also health-related traits that our family history has a say in, including some of the more common eye diseases—including 3 that are the leading causes of blindness in the U.S for both children and adults.Hereditary eye disease

In fact, genetic eye diseases are responsible for over 60% of cases of infant blindness. This includes congenital glaucoma, retinal degeneration, cataracts, and eye malformations. However, for most of us, our genetic predisposition for developing eye diseases doesn’t surface until later in life. 

In adults, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and macular degeneration are three of the leading causes of blindness, and each of these eye diseases has been linked to genetics in a majority of cases. Here’s what you should know about your family history and these 3 eye diseases:


Glaucoma is the second most common cause of vision loss and blindness in the U.S. Nearly 3 million Americans aged 40 and older have some degree of glaucoma, and it’s more common among adults over age 60. In most cases, glaucoma is the result of increased pressure in the eye which causes damage to the optic nerve.

While age is a top risk factor for developing glaucoma—particularly for older African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians—family history is a major risk factor for glaucoma. Studies estimate that over 50% of glaucoma cases are related to family history, and researchers have identified several genes for glaucoma. In fact, someone with a sibling who has glaucoma is 10 times more likely to develop it than someone who doesn’t.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common form of diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. This eye disease is associated with diabetes, a chronic disease that features elevated blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels from diabetes cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which then leads to swelling, leaking, or scarring of the blood vessels. 

Depending on the severity of the diabetic retinopathy, the damage to blood vessels impacts vision either temporarily or permanently, 

The early stages of diabetic retinopathy present very few symptoms, if any at all. In fact, most people living with diabetes have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, although nearly 50% of them don’t know they have the disease. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms may include blurry vision,  seeing floaters or dark spots, poor night vision, and loss of central vision or loss of peripheral vision. 

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a chronic and progressive disease that gradually destroys your central vision due to deterioration of the macula, which is the small central portion of your retina. When the macula deteriorates, your central vision appears blurry, darkened, or distorted. This can make activities like reading, cooking, and driving not only difficult, but dangerous given the situation.

While macular degeneration is most commonly associated with aging, the disease also has a strong genetic link. If you have a family history of macular degeneration, you have a higher risk for developing it as well, especially if you’re over the age of 50. Other risk factors include having cardiovascular disease or high cholesterol, smoking, and being Caucasian.

Your Genetic Link To Eye Disease

While we can’t control our genetics, the bottom line is that you can be proactive when it comes to the health of your eyes. Know your family history for eye diseases as much as possible. Genetics is a complex field—your parents may have had perfect vision without any complications of eye diseases, but perhaps your grandparents had eye diseases and these dormant traits could be passed on to you.

The key to treating any eye disease—genetic or not—is early diagnosis and treatment. Your eye doctor can detect the onset of eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, as well as cataracts and other conditions that affect your vision. Don’t wait until you start experiencing vision problems to have a comprehensive eye examination.

At Harden Valley Eyecare, we are passionate about helping you stay proactive about your eyesight and the overall health of your eyes. Our eye care professionals are dedicated to providing exceptional personal service to each and every person who walks through our door. Stop by our practice at 10904 Spring Bluff Way off Hardin Valley Road, call us at (865) 409-1253, or contact us to schedule your appointment.

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Thompson was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. His family has lived in the Hardin Valley area since 1998, and he graduated from Karns High School in 2004. Dr. Thompson runs Hardin Valley Eyecare & Optical alongside his wife, Dr. Catherine Abbott.

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