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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
Cataracts that are present at birth are called congenital cataracts. This condition is relatively rare and affects around
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.
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.
- 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.
Cataracts can result from the normal aging of the eye. They are most common in people aged
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.