How is it that we all know what major systemic diseases our immediate family members may have (diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis etc.), but so few people know about their family history of eye disease. A survey conducted a couple of years ago by CNIB showed that almost half of Canadians (47 percent) do not feel well informed about their family history of glaucoma. In fact, only one third of Canadians had spoken to their immediate families to learn whether glaucoma could be a hereditary concern. Among the group that reported having had this conversation with their family, 47 percent learned that glaucoma was in fact in their family.
So why is this so important? The reason is that many eye diseases have genetic origins and if your parents or siblings have the disease, you will be at a higher risk of acquiring the disease yourself. In particular, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have both been shown to be genetically linked while genetic factors have also been shown to be involved in diabetic retinopathy.
In addition to your family history, your ethnic background will also affect your risk of developing many eye diseases. People of African or Caribbean descent have been shown to have a higher risk of developing glaucoma, while those of Caucasian background are at a greater risk of developing AMD. People of East Asian origin (Chinese/Japanese) are at a higher risk of developing a form of glaucoma called narrow angle glaucoma as are people of Inuit heritage, while first nations people and people from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) have a higher risk of developing Diabetic Retinopathy.
This all sounds rather depressing, however, the good news is that early detection and treatment of these diseases can minimize serious vision loss. To achieve this you need to have regular complete eye examinations by an eye doctor, since most of the eye diseases I have mentioned have very few symptoms in their early stages, and therefore only a complete eye examination by an eye doctor will reveal the presence of these diseases. How often should you have a complete eye examination? The frequency will depend on your particular set of circumstances. So see your eye doctor as soon as possible and let him or her tell you when to come back for your next visit.