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  • Know Your Family Medical History to Save Your Sight

    Published Nov. 02, 2012

    Share your family history with your ophthalmologist

    Eye exams are an important part of an overall health plan. Just as you would tell your family doctor about your family history of heart disease, you should inform your eyecare professional about your family's eye health history. Knowledge of past and present family eye disorders can help save your vision! In fact, if age-related macular degeneration (AMD) runs in your family, you have 50 percent chance of developing AMD. And, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, having a family history of glaucoma makes you four to nine times more likely to get the disease.

    Before you go in for your next eye exam, do some research on your family's medical history so that you can share this important information with your ophthalmologist. Telling your ophthalmologist the types of eye diseases that run in your family may prompt him or her to recommend more frequent eye exams. The earlier eye disease is caught, the better chances you may have of saving your vision. A comprehensive dilated eye exam, a painless procedure in which an eye doctor examines your eyes in search for common vision problems and eye diseases, is recommended. This exam can help diagnose or rule out a wide range of eye diseases and conditions, many of which have no early warning signs.

    Many hereditary eye diseases won't show symptoms until later on in life. In fact, many eye diseases progress without any warning signs at all. Gradual changes in vision often go unnoticed but can have a devastating impact on your ability to function independently. The earlier that your ophthalmologist can detect and treat an eye disease, the better your chances are of preserving your precious vision.

    Individuals with no signs or risk factors for any eye diseases need to know the importance of getting a baseline eye disease screening no later than age 40, which is the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur.

    After receiving a baseline exam from your ophthalmologist, he or she will recommend a schedule of follow-up examinations based on your eye health. If you are affected by an eye disease such as glaucoma or macular degeneration there is an increased likelihood that other family members may be at risk. Please take time to share this information. Make it a point during the holidays or other family gatherings to share your diagnosis with family members and discuss the importance of eye exams.

    Aside from your family medical background, know that your age and gender also factor into eye diseases that you may or may not be prone to. For example, nearly two- thirds of people affected by vision loss are female and elderly individuals with African ancestry are five times more likely to develop glaucoma. A little knowledge can go a long way when it comes to saving your sight!