As an experienced optometrist, Dr. Sophia Barnes has seen countless patients at Vision Corner in Houston, Texas, who are worried about their eyesight. One question we hear about often is whether eye diseases, like macular degeneration, are hereditary.
Many of our patients have heard stories of how their grandparents or parents suffered from this condition, so they’re understandably concerned.
In this post, Dr. Barnes delves into the details of macular degeneration, explaining what it is, what causes it — including how genetics plays a role — and who’s most at risk. She also discusses how she treats it.
Macular degeneration is a progressive eye disease that damages the central part of your retina, the macula. The macula provides clear, sharp vision, so when it becomes damaged, it can have severe consequences for your eyesight.
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. The former occurs when yellow deposits called drusen accumulate in the macula, while the latter is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. Wet macular degeneration is typically more severe and can lead to rapid vision loss.
Because your macula sends messages to your brain from your optic nerve, macular degeneration can lead to some severe symptoms, but they may only appear when the disease is quite advanced. If and when they show up, you may notice:
These are all signs that you should schedule an appointment with Dr. Barnes immediately.
Macular degeneration is an age-related disease — it’s also called age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — so your risk significantly increases as you get older. Folks over 60 are particularly at risk, and women are likelier to develop the condition than men.
Your chances of developing AMD also increase if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of smoking.
Yes, there’s a genetic component to macular degeneration, so people with a family history of the disease have a higher risk of developing it. In fact, up to 20% of those with AMD have at least one close relative with it.
The genetics of macular degeneration are complex, and there’s still much that researchers don't understand. Specific gene variants can increase your risk of developing the disease, however. The two primary genes linked to macular degeneration are AMD1 and CFH, and several others are implicated as well.
Genetic testing can help you discover if you’re at a higher risk of developing macular degeneration, allowing Dr. Barnes to take proactive steps to manage the disease and preserve your vision.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this eye disease, but Dr. Barnes offers state-of-the-art treatments that can slow its progression.
For dry macular degeneration, Dr. Barnes typically recommends lifestyle interventions such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and protecting your eyes from UV rays. Vitamins and nutritional supplements can also slow down the disease's progression.
We usually treat wet macular degeneration with injections into your eye to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the macula. While this may sound daunting, it’s pretty quick and painless, and most patients see a significant improvement in their vision.
To find out if you’re at risk for macular degeneration, call Vision Corner or book an appointment anytime using our online scheduling tool.