Can poor eyesight be inherited?
Poor eyesight can be genetic, and this is more likely if one or both of your parents have vision problems.
Poor eyesight can also be caused or impacted by other factors, like age, general health, environment and lifestyle. Some eye conditions respond to treatment or can be corrected with glasses, while others are irreversible.
Almost 2 million people in the UK experience some degree of sight loss (Source: RNIB) and several hundred eye conditions are hereditary (genetic). Some of these conditions are mild but some can be serious.
Is blindness genetic?
Blindness can be genetic, but it can also occur due to environmental factors, injury, ageing or illness. Hereditary blindness can develop over time, as problems within the eyes become worse, especially in old age. Over 60% of infant and child blindness is passed down from parent to child through genetic eye problems (Source: Cleveland Clinic).
What are the hereditary eye diseases that can affect eyesight?
Some hereditary eye diseases can affect eyesight or even cause blindness, so you may need regular eye care check-ups with your optometrist if you have a family history of any of the following genetic eye problems.
Are eye problems genetic?
More than 350 eye diseases are linked to genetics, including colour blindness, lazy eye, short-sightedness and farsightedness (Source: Research to Prevent Blindness). Eyesight genetics mean that poor eyesight and vision problems often run in families.
Myopia (also known as nearsightedness) is genetic in some cases. Studies have shown that a person has over 40% chance of developing myopia if both parents are myopic (Source: National Library of Medicine). Signs of myopia include eye strain, headaches and blurred long-distance vision. Glasses and contact lenses can correct nearsightedness, but laser surgery can be a longer-lasting treatment option.
Hyperopia, or longsightedness, is a refractive error that can be hereditary. Hyperopia affects around 10% of people over 40 in the Western world (Source: Clinical Genetics) and is usually corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Children of long sighted parents should be checked at an early age to check for signs of amblyopia (lazy eye) or squint.
In most cases, colour blindness is genetic. The gene that causes colour blindness passes down through the X-chromosome, and the condition affects more men than women (Source: NEI). There is no cure for colour blindness, but inherited colour blindness does not worsen or change over time.
Night blindness occurs when your retina struggles to adapt to dim light. The retina contains rod cells that help you see in the dark and cone cells that help you see in the light. Inherited night blindness causes a problem with the rods in the retina, impairing your ability to see in low light or darkness. Night blindness with loss of peripheral vision can be a sign of an inherited eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
Amblyopia (lazy eye)
Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is a condition that occurs in children. It usually happens because the vision from one eye is poor, so the brain starts to ignore the signals from that eye, causing the eye to weaken. The cause of poor vision in the weaker eye can vary, although it is usually a result of a refractive error, such as longsight, that can be inherited.
Astigmatism is often hereditary and can be present from birth. This condition is caused by an irregularly shaped eye, resulting in blurry vision, eye strain, and headaches. Astigmatism can also cause a lazy eye in children.
Strabismus, or cross-eyes, can be hereditary. Studies have shown that over 30% of people first presenting with strabismus have a close relative with the same condition (Source: Ophthalmology). Strabismus can lead to a lazy eye, so childhood screening and early intervention are vital for treatment.
Frequently asked questions
A family history of eyesight problems can increase the risk of passing on hereditary eye conditions, but early intervention may halt deterioration or, in some cases, even correct the problem. Regular eye tests are important, particularly if eye conditions run in your family. If you have concerns about genetic eyesight problems, your GP or optician can advise you about eye health and genetic testing if appropriate.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 28/07/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.