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Is Glaucoma Hereditary?

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An older adult man sitting on a couch and holding his glasses in his left hand as he rubs his right eye with his other hand

Glaucoma is a progressive eye condition that can eventually damage the optic nerve. This condition often begins without causing any noticeable symptoms and can lead to long-term vision loss if left unaddressed. Fortunately, your optometrist can detect glaucoma during a routine eye exam. But why does glaucoma develop? Is glaucoma hereditary?

Genetics and family history play a large role in your likelihood of developing glaucoma, so it’s considered a hereditary condition. However, other factors, such as age, environment, diet, and exercise, can also contribute. If you’re worried about glaucoma, visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a complicated group of eye conditions characterized by the buildup of your eye’s intraocular pressure. Over time, this pressure begins to damage the optic nerve, the nerve responsible for transmitting visual signals to the brain. If damaged, it can lead to permanent vision loss, typically beginning with your peripheral vision.

This is often due to a problem with your eye’s internal drainage system. Aqueous humor flows into the eye, carrying essential nutrients and oxygen with it. Once this fluid has done its job, it flows out through a complex drainage system—think of it like the plumbing in your house that lets liquids flow through pipes smoothly and efficiently.

However, pressure starts building up within your eye when this fluid fails to drain sufficiently. This can damage the optic nerve and begin reducing your field of view. This is why it’s essential to regularly schedule eye exams with your optometrist—it can help catch conditions like glaucoma before they’ve stolen your vision. This is even more important when it comes to glaucoma—it often progresses without any symptoms at first, so it’s referred to as “the silent thief of sight.”

The Different Types of Glaucoma

There’s a bit of a catch with glaucoma; it isn’t just one condition. There are several different types of glaucoma, each with its own progression rate, cause, symptoms, and more.

The common types of glaucoma include:

  • Open-angle glaucoma
  • Angle-closure glaucoma
  • Secondary glaucoma
  • Congenital glaucoma

Open-Angle Glaucoma

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma. It tends to manifest slowly over time, steadily increasing your intraocular pressure subtly. This eventually puts additional pressure on the optic nerve, potentially damaging the outer edges and peripheral vision.

This is often a slow and long process, so many people don’t even notice they’re beginning to lose their vision. However, this vision loss is permanent, and the optic nerve can’t be restored once damaged.

Fortunately, open-angle glaucoma can be effectively managed with medications or surgery—so long as it’s caught early enough. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you should visit your optometrist at least once every 2 years.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma (ACG)

Angle-closure glaucoma is much less common but also can be much more severe. This version of glaucoma progresses rapidly, often causing:

  • Intense eye pain or discomfort
  • Sudden onset of blurred vision
  • Headaches, often severe, around the temples
  • Nausea and vomiting, accompanied by the above symptoms
  • The appearance of halos around lights
  • Redness of the eye, giving it a bloodshot look

If you notice any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Angle-closure glaucoma is a serious condition that can lead to permanent blindness if ignored. Once vision loss begins, it’s irreversible, so it is considered a medical emergency.

Secondary Glaucoma

Sometimes, other conditions can cause a rise in intraocular pressure. When this happens, it’s called “secondary glaucoma” since it’s a side effect of something else. This can be caused by:

  • Severe eye trauma
  • A result of certain medications
  • Prolonged usage of corticosteroids
  • Diseases like uveitis that can cause inflammation inside the eye
  • Diabetes, which can damage the eye’s blood vessels and alter its ability to function properly

This is often treatable by identifying and addressing the original cause.

Congenital Glaucoma

Congenital glaucoma is rare and caused by an abnormal development of the eye’s natural drainage system. It is present at birth and can be diagnosed early on.

This is a hereditary condition, and while it isn’t common, it’s essential to identify and address it as soon as possible. Children with congenital glaucoma may need surgery or medication to help manage the condition and prevent vision loss.

What Causes Glaucoma?

So, what exactly causes glaucoma? What makes this condition develop? It’s typically due to a wide range of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Genetics: Genetics play a significant role in your likelihood of developing plenty of different medical conditions
  • Your environment and lifestyle: Habits like tobacco consumption, poor nutrition, and a lack of exercise can lead to long-term problems in the eye, like glaucoma
  • Medical history: A history of heart problems, high blood pressure, or diabetes
  • Your age: People over the age of 60 are more at risk of developing glaucoma

It is considered to be hereditary. If you have a family history of glaucoma, you’re more likely to develop the condition yourself.

The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

Because glaucoma usually doesn’t show any symptoms at first, it’s essential to regularly schedule comprehensive eye exams with your optometrist. This gives them a chance to thoroughly inspect your eye to determine whether or not you’re at risk of developing conditions like glaucoma.

During the exam, your optometrist will perform a series of tests, each with its own purpose. For glaucoma, you’ll likely undergo:

  • A visual field test to measure your peripheral vision and check for any abnormalities
  • A tonometry test, which measures your intraocular pressure

These can help your optometrist determine whether you’re at risk of glaucoma. If you are, it’s easier to treat in the early stages. This can help preserve more of your vision in the long term and slow, if not stop, glaucoma’s progression.

Close-up of an older adult woman undergoing a slit-lamp exam

What to Do if You’re Worried About Glaucoma

If you’re worried about glaucoma, contact our team at The Eye Gallery. We can perform a comprehensive eye exam and test you for glaucoma—and plenty of other conditions—to help keep your eyes and vision strong. Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight; book an appointment with us today!

Written by Dr. Megan Baldwin

As a Kansas native (born and raised in Kingman), Dr. Baldwin is thrilled to practice what she loves so close to home. She can’t imagine anything better than to care for her community and build strong ties with new friends and colleagues.

When She’s not in the office caring for her patients, Dr. Baldwin enjoys making memories with her husband, Aaron, and two sweet kids, Parker and Stella! You’ll often find her playing piano, hosting her friends and family in her home, or out for a run. Dr. Baldwin and her husband enjoy traveling to warm places and recently became open-water scuba diver certified!

She chose eye care as her career because Dr. Baldwin has always wanted to help people. The quality of care she provides is incredibly important to her. In an age where doctors spend just a few minutes with their patients, she is proud to give her patients the time and diligence they deserve. More than to simply “see” you, Dr. Baldwin wants to learn more about you and how she can best serve your needs. Your relationship matters.

Dr. Baldwin invites you to make an appointment for yourself or your children, whether you have an eye concern or are simply seeking an updated corrective lens prescription. She will always do her best to provide you the best eye care available anywhere in Wichita.

Professional Associations & Memberships

  • Member, Kansas Optometric Association (KOA)
  • Member, American Optometric Association (AOA)
  • Member, Business Networking International (BNI)


  • Bachelor of Science (chemistry) – Bethel College, 2007
  • Doctor of Optometry – Northeastern State University, Oklahoma College of Optometry, 2011
    • Graduated Magna Cum Laude
    • Member of the Beta Sigma Kappa honor society
    • Presented with “Outstanding Clinician in Ocular Disease” award
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