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Cataracts can affect anyone from babies to older adults. Some cataracts may develop due to genetic disorders inherited during conception.

Many may think cataracts in the eyes only develop as you get older. Cataracts cause the lens of your eye to get cloudy, leading to blurry or hazy vision, less vivid colors, and trouble reading.

Yet, even though age is the main factor for cataract development, they can crop up in children and younger adults and researchers believe they might be hereditary.

Here’s what you need to know about inherited cataracts, what causes them and how they’re passed down in families, and ways you may be able to prevent them.

Most cataracts are related to age, as more than half of people 80 and older in the United States develop cataracts or have surgery to remove them. However, some cataracts are genetically inherited.

Cataracts that are present at birth are called congenital cataracts. This condition is relatively rare and affects around 4.24 in every 10,000 births. Maternal infections during pregnancy (rubella, HSV, syphilis) are a leading cause of congenital cataracts.

This type of cataract is present in both eyes and could arise from an inherited condition, where as unilateral congenital cataract is usually due to some other cause.

Experts in the United Kingdom estimate that a family history of this condition is the cause in 1 out of every 5 cases. Other hereditary causes that may cause infantile cataracts include chromosomal conditions, like Down syndrome, inherited metabolic disorders like galactosemia, and other genetically inherited disorders, like mitochondrial disorders.

Genetics may play a role in age-related cataracts, as well:

  • Researchers have found a total of 115 genes and 38 “disease-causing” genes that may cause cataracts.
  • Genetic mutations may also impact the overall shape of the lens, putting the eye at a higher risk for the development of cataracts.
  • Genes may destabilize the proteins in the eye and make them more susceptible to environmental factors that cause cataracts, like exposure to sunlight.

Aside from age being the biggest factor in developing cataracts, other factors that mayincrease your risk of developing cataracts:

  • health conditions, like diabetes
  • history of smoking and/or excessive alcohol use
  • family history of cataracts
  • eye injury, surgery, or radiation treatment around eyes
  • history of prolonged sun exposure
  • use of steroids (for arthritis, allergies, etc.)

By the time a person reaches middle age (around 40 years old), the proteins found inside the lens of the eye start to break down. When these proteins clump together, they create cataracts.

Some 20.5 million Americans over 40 and older have cataracts that affect one or both eyes. Cataracts typically begin to cloud vision and produce other symptoms closer to when a person reaches 60years or older.

Mild cataracts may produce no symptoms or only minor changes to your vision. You may notice changes as cataracts grow larger, however.

Symptoms include:

  • vision that’s blurry or cloudy
  • vision that’s impaired in dark settings
  • colors looking less vivid
  • lights (sun, lamps, headlights) looking too bright
  • halo appearing around lights
  • double vision
  • frequent change in vision prescription

Genetic testing is recommended for children with congenital or juvenile cataracts when it’s associated with known inherited developmental snydromes. It may also be recommended in family planning for couples who had congenital or juvenile cataracts themselves or those who previously had a child with congenital cataracts.

Testing involves screening the blood for mutations in the 115 genes associated with cataracts. Researchers share that with current genetic testing, it is possible to find a genetic mutation in up to 90% of cases of bilateral cataracts.

If you have a family history of cataracts, speak with your doctor to find out if genetic testing is right for you. Some companies that offer a cataract panel include Blueprint Genetics, Fulgent, and Invitae.

Retinal diseases cause vision issues and vision loss and may mimic some symptoms of cataracts. These diseases can be inherited through three different modes: autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, or X-linked.

Diseases include:

The National Eye Institute shares that there are some lifestyle changes you can make that may help to prevent cataracts from forming.

  • wear sunglasses or a hat to shield your eyes from sun exposure
  • wear protective eyewear (goggles, for example) when playing sports or doing other activities that may endanger your eyes
  • if you smoke, try to stop
  • eat a well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains

Cataracts can result from the normal aging of the eye. They are most common in people aged 40 and above. But they can also develop from injury or lifestyle factors like smoking or sun exposure, and they can be inherited because of genetic links in families.

You can consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist. about any concerns about your eyesight or genetic risks for developing cataracts. Your doctor can give you a thorough eye exam and discuss how genetic factors may contribute to your cataract risk, as well as any treatment that may be necessary.