Family History Could Increase Your Risk for Cataracts, Glaucoma and AMD

Women pose for family photoFamily history is a major risk factor for cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration so talk to your family about early detection of eye disease.

Did you know that Thanksgiving Day is also National Family Health History Day? In 2004, the U.S. surgeon general established this health-related holiday and decided it should be held during Thanksgiving since families traditionally gather together during this time. It gives us the ideal occasion to talk with extended family members about inherited conditions and diseases.

Genetics can contribute to refractive errors like nearsightedness and astigmatism, as well as sight-robbing diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. So be sure to ask your family about their visual health as well.


Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in adults 40 and older. Warning signs of cataracts include blurred vision, clouded vision, double vision, glares and halos around objects, fading of colors and difficulty seeing at night. Cataract-related vision loss is reversible through cataract surgery, a common and safe procedure.

Take our Glaucoma Risk Assessment to learn more about your risk of developing the disease.


Glaucoma refers to a family of eye diseases characterized by increased eye pressure which can result in vision loss. Primary open-angle glaucoma accounts for about 80 percent of glaucoma, and it usually develops slowly without noticeable symptoms. Peripheral vision loss is often the first symptom of the disease, but by the time this is detected, significant eye damage has already occurred.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive disease that affects the macula, the part of the eye that is responsible for sharp central vision. Often, AMD does not cause symptoms until the macula is damaged, causing dark or blurred spots in the center of the visual field. At least 20 genes affect your risk for AMD, so this disease has a strong association with family history.

Call an Ophthalmologist

Don’t forget to discuss your family health history with your relatives this holiday. While you’re on the topic, encourage your family members to call an ophthalmologist after Thanksgiving to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with dilation. A full eye exam checks for:

  • Focusing problems
  • Refractive errors
  • Eye diseases
  • Vision problems like binocular vision, amblyopia and strabismus
  • Other chronic conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes

Family history may increase your risk for certain eye diseases, but your eye doctor can help you manage your risk factors. Daily exercise, a nutritious diet and annual eye exams can help preserve your eyesight so you can enjoy a lifetime of clear vision.

If you are not under the care of a board-certified eye doctor, click here and enter your zip code to find a physician near you.

Related Articles:

Use Family Gatherings to Gather Eye History
Understanding Macular Degeneration