African Americans are at Highest Risk for Glaucoma

Three generations of African -American women using a laptop at homeHeredity is a primary risk factor for glaucoma, and African Americans have a six- to eight-fold risk for the disease.

Glaucoma is a family of diseases that damage the optic nerve, causing vision loss and blindness if left untreated. Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is the most common form of the disease, and it rarely has symptoms. POAG affects about 3 percent of Asian Americans, 6 percent of Caucasian Americans, and 16 percent of African Americans.

Genetics and Glaucoma

No one knows what causes glaucoma or why African Americans develop POAG at disproportionate rates compared to other ethnicities. On average, African Americans develop POAG ten years earlier and are four times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians. They are also at higher risk for:

  • Earlier onset of POAG
  • Severe, rapid progression
  • Worse outcomes
  • Decreased quality of life

African Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma if they also have:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Steroid use
  • History of eye injury
  • Extreme myopia (nearsightedness)

Research including the Baltimore Eye Study and Barbados Eye Study have helped scientists understand how genetic and environmental factors affect POAG among people of African ethnicity. Recently, the National Eye Institute funded a 5-year study called the Primary Open-Angle African American Glaucoma Genetics Study (POAAGG). This study was the first large-scale population study analyzing African Americans for hereditary risk factors. The study included 2,365 participants of African American, African Caribbean or African descent from Pennsylvania.

From POAAGG data, researchers hope to develop a whole-genome sequence to determine genes associated with glaucoma, improve screening and develop new therapies. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but several types of glaucoma therapy can be effective with early diagnosis.

Visit an Ophthalmologist for an Eye Exam

It is important to visit an eye doctor each year for a comprehensive eye exam. Routine eye exams can detect eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration early. Glaucoma symptoms are rare, so you cannot depend on warning signs or pain to indicate an eye problem. Swift detection prevents vision loss and preserves your eye health.

Click here to see a list of ophthalmologists and eye care centers in your area.

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