Ask an Expert: I Just Took a Home DNA Test. What Kinds of Eye Health Issues Can It Reveal?

At-home DNA tests are booming in popularity for figuring out your disease risk — including some eye diseases.

Eye graphic

Wondering about your ancestry, allergies, or disease risk? There’s an at-home DNA test for that.

Home DNA tests have been around for about two decades. There are more than 150 of them to choose from, according to a market report from Kuick Research. Most of these tests focus on pinpointing your ancestral origins. But some companies also offer at-home tests that screen for certain health conditions, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Celiac disease
  • High cholesterol

Some of the leading companies include 23andMe, DNA28, and MyHeritageDNA.

“Our risk for many conditions is informed by our DNA,” says Barrett Eubanks, M.D. He’s an ophthalmologist and refractive surgeon at NVISION Eye Centers in Murrieta, California. “As our understanding continues to improve, at-home testing allows us to screen for these conditions to some degree, and that includes the health of our eyes.”

These tests don’t offer a huge range of insight into eye issues. And they can’t tell you with 100% certainty whether you have a specific condition. But they could give enough of a sign to prompt you to visit your eye doctor. Here’s a look at the eye health issues that at-home DNA testing could reveal.

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What eye conditions are part of home DNA tests?

There are two common eye conditions that may show up on an at-home DNA test: glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among older adults. A home DNA test may include the two common genetic variants associated with increased risk of developing AMD. Some testing companies also offer a “glaucoma report” that includes multiple genetic variants linked to glaucoma development.

Keep in mind that these conditions are complex, stresses Dr. Eubanks. Just because you show higher risk doesn’t mean you’ll develop them, he says. Instead, it suggests that you could be more prone to developing them than someone who doesn’t carry those genetic risk factors.

Neither issue is curable. But early detection can make a major difference in slowing disease progression and symptoms. For some individuals, that makes knowing their personal risk factors even more important.

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What health risks might have indirect vision issues?

Other conditions may not be directly related to eye health but could still affect your vision. Among the most notable, for example, high cholesterol can impact eye function and heart health.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, too much cholesterol can create fatty deposits in the eyelids. High cholesterol can also cause a condition called arcus senilis, in which a grayish ring develops around the cornea. Plaque from cholesterol may block blood vessels in your eyes. That can boost your risk of vision problems and even vision loss.

At-home DNA tests can also indicate your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. This condition affects many systems in the body, including your eyes. Diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, or swelling in the eye that may cause blurry vision. If left untreated, it can lead to vision loss. Diabetes also doubles your chances of developing glaucoma.

If I have higher risk, what are the next steps?

If your home DNA test indicates you may be at high risk, you should schedule an eye exam, Dr. Eubanks says.

“With this information, it’s still important to have regular screenings with your eye doctor,” he says. Sharing the results of your DNA test can be helpful. But your eye exam will also include a range of other assessments that can give you a true picture of your eye health.

What else can home DNA tests tell me about eye health and function?.

At-home DNA tests are evolving. As they improve, more eye issues could be part of the overall screening. But even so, in-person eye exams will always be the best way to detect eye problems.