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Family History Significant Risk Factor in Eye Disease

Family History Significant Risk Factor in Eye Disease – Expert

By Fleur Revell
24 June 2014

Kiwis with a family history of conditions like cataracts and glaucoma may have an increased risk of developing eye disease according to a leading New Zealand eye specialist.

Auckland Eye ophthalmologist Dr Justin Mora says family history plays a role in many kinds of eye disease, including conditions which can lead to blindness. In New Zealand macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness, followed by glaucoma – both are linked to genetics.

“The risk of glaucoma increases with age but is five to ten times higher if your mother, father or sibling has it and the disease creeps up on you without you being aware of it, so early detection is really important,” Dr Mora says.

“Twenty per cent of cases of congenital cataracts are inherited and if there’s a family history of the disease, you have a 50:50 chance of developing it,” he says.

“Our knowledge and understanding about the inheritance of eye disease is increasing and research to identify the responsible genes is ongoing,” Dr Mora says.

Family history is also involved in common vision problems such as lazy eye, crossed-eyes (squint) and near and far-sightedness, says Dr Mora.

Dr Mora says the routine tests children have before starting primary school should identify any issues with sight, though an eye test can be done at any time if parents are concerned about their child's vision.

If there is a family history of eye problems, it is recommended that adults should have their eyes tested by an optometrist or ophthalmologist every 5 years from the age of 40, every 3 years from age 50 and every 2 years from age 60.

Congenital (present at birth) diseases such as cataracts, congenital glaucoma, retinal degeneration, optic atrophy and eye malformations are a leading cause of blindness among infants. In adults, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are among the leading causes of blindness and in many cases these conditions are inherited.

“An eye examination is a simple process which usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes – longer if you need additional tests. As well as testing your sight, we will check the health of your eyes, look for signs of general health problems and gather information from you, including any family history of eye disease.

“If we find something, we can talk through treatment options. The most important thing is to get your eyes checked in the first instance,” Dr Mora says.

Auckland Eye has been involved in international research, including glaucoma trials, for 15 years and many of these trials have resulted in products now being used in clinical practice worldwide.


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