Q: My mother has glaucoma. What are my chances of getting it? What can I do to prevent it?

A: Individuals whose parents have glaucoma have a much greater risk for getting the disease. Currently, there are no genetic tests for adult-onset glaucoma and diagnosis must be made through a comprehensive eye examination. In general, individuals who are more likely to be at risk for glaucoma are:

  • over age fifty
  • related to someone who has glaucoma
  • of African descent
  • very short-sighted

Perhaps the most important of these risk factors is being related to someone with glaucoma. Glaucoma is unusual in people under the age of fifty. It is more common in patients with a strong family history and in those who are very short-sighted. In North America, people who are black are three times as likely to develop glaucoma as people who are white and of the same age. There is also a slight increase in glaucoma in patients who suffer from diabetes. Strictly speaking, there is very little a person can do to prevent glaucoma. Herbs, vitamins, drugs and diet have no effect one way or the other (they neither cause nor prevent glaucoma).

Regular aerobic exercise, however, has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure, while it has been shown that exercises such as weightlifting can actually increase pressure in the eye, as can playing a wind instrument. Consult with your eye care professional before undertaking any of these activities if you are at risk for glaucoma. As a rule, regular testing for glaucoma in at-risk individuals is crucial in detecting the onset of the disease, since it can become very advanced without the patient noticing any symptoms at all. Early detection and prompt treatment are key.

Color picture of Dr. Graham E. Trope.

The Expert:

Dr. Graham E. Tropeis Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto. He has directed the Glaucoma Service at University Health Network since 1984 and is the past Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto.

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