Anyone can develop glaucoma, but your risk may be higher if you have a family member with the disorder. Genetics are also the primary risk factor for developing specific types of glaucoma that develop before age 40.

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Glaucoma is a general term used to describe certain eye disorders involving progressive optic nerve damage. Over time, this causes irreversible vision changes due to nerve tissue losses.

In some cases, glaucoma has a genetic component. Having a parent or other close relative with glaucoma can also increase your risk of developing it.

Learn more about the possible genetic and hereditary links with glaucoma and what you can do to help protect your eye health.

Types of glaucoma

The two main types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure.

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type, making up about 90% of all cases. It develops gradually, where symptoms may not be noticeable until your optic nerve is significantly damaged.

Less common is closed-angle glaucoma, which develops when the iris inside your eye blocks regular drainage, leading to a buildup of pressure against the optic nerve. With angle-closure glaucoma, symptoms may develop gradually or suddenly. Acute attacks are medical emergencies, as these can lead to blindness.

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Both open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma may be inherited.

About half of all people with primary open-angle glaucoma have a family history of the disease. Having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with primary open-angle glaucoma may increase your risk by up to nine times. And the more relatives you have with the disease, the higher your risk.

Some research suggests that your risk of developing primary closed-angle glaucoma may be 13.6 times higher if you have a sibling with it.

Early-onset glaucoma

If glaucoma occurs before age 40, doctors consider it early-onset glaucoma. When this happens, your genetics usually play a role.

Juvenile open-angle glaucoma is when open-angle glaucoma develops before age 40. According to 2022 research, it primarily affects people assigned male at birth, and diagnosis happens during your 20s on average. Although some people develop it without a family history, there is a genetic component.

Primary congenital glaucoma is a rare childhood form of this eye disease with a genetic component. It develops before age 3.

It’s possible to inherit glaucoma through genetic mutations from your parents. Some possible mutations in early-onset glaucoma may involve MYOC and CYP1B1 genes.

For adults with primary open-angle glaucoma, a 2017 study identified nearly a dozen possible gene variants that might contribute. However, more research is needed.

What percentage of glaucoma is hereditary?

Experts think that up to 50% of all cases of glaucoma have a familial component. But the connection is stronger among siblings than it is between parents and children.

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There’s no way to prevent glaucoma. However, regular eye exams can help doctors diagnose and treat it sooner, which can help slow its progression.

If you’re an older adult or have a family history of glaucoma, make sure you tell your eye doctor. They may recommend more frequent exams.

Once glaucoma develops, the damage can’t be reversed. However, medications can help reduce the risk of further damage to your eyes and prevent vision loss. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery.

The influence of genetics means that race and ethnicity are important risk factors for glaucoma.

Black people and African Americans have a higher risk of developing glaucoma and related blindness.

Also, individuals of Japanese descent have a higher risk of developing low-tension glaucoma, while Native Alaskans and people of Asian descent have a higher risk of developing angle-closure glaucoma. These subtypes are not as common as open-angle glaucoma.

Primary congenital glaucoma is most common in people of Middle Eastern descent.

Other risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Age: While there’s a risk of developing glaucoma after age 40, the risk increases exponentially after age 60.
  • Personal history of certain eye conditions: Traumatic eye injuries, tumors, and inflammatory eye diseases may increase your risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Other medical conditions: Your risk of glaucoma may be higher if you have a history of migraine, diabetes, or heart disease. High blood pressure (hypertension) and poor blood circulation are other risk factors.
  • Taking certain immunosuppressants: Doctors often recommend immunosuppressants, particularly corticosteroids, for acute inflammatory conditions. But long-term use for more chronic conditions can increase your risk of side effects, including glaucoma.

Before talking with an eye doctor about your glaucoma risk, consider reading the following common questions about this topic.

If my parent has glaucoma, will I get it?

While having a parent with glaucoma doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop it, your chances may be greater. Having a sibling with glaucoma seems to be a greater indicator, with 15% of people with glaucoma having at least one sibling with the eye disease.

Is glaucoma hereditary from grandparents?

Some genetic conditions seem to “skip” a generation. But having any blood relative with glaucoma increases your risk of developing it. This includes siblings, parents, and grandparents.

At what age do symptoms of glaucoma usually appear?

Glaucoma is most common in adults over age 60. But some people may start experiencing symptoms earlier, especially if they have a family history. For example, glaucoma risk for African Americans increases after age 40.

How do I know if I have the gene for glaucoma?

The only way to know for certain if you carry a gene mutation is to undergo genetic testing. This most often consists of blood testing from a specialist.

Glaucoma is a common eye disorder in older adults, though certain genetic components may lead to the development of glaucoma in children and young adults.

While there are many possible risk factors for glaucoma, it’s important to tell an eye doctor if you have blood relatives with this condition. The earlier they can detect early signs of glaucoma, the sooner you can get treatments that can help reduce your risk of vision loss.