African Americans Can Reduce Risk for Eye Disease

Female doctor checking young patient's eye.Some eye diseases disproportionately affect African Americans. African Americans are more likely to develop certain eye diseases and less likely to receive necessary eye surgery than Caucasians.

Research shows African American individuals are at increased risk for cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Disparities in Cataract Treatment

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 24.4 million Americans over 40 have cataracts. By age 75, at least 50 percent of Americans will have a cataract.

Cataracts are treatable with cataract surgery. Cataract surgery is the most common procedure performed on Medicare beneficiaries, and it has a success rate of over 90 percent. However, studies show African Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have cataracts removed.

African Americans Are at Higher Risk for Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that damages the optic nerve and can cause permanent vision loss. Besides cataracts, glaucoma is the most common cause of vision loss among African Americans and individuals of African heritage. African Americans are six to eight times more likely to develop glaucoma than Caucasians and the vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible (Glaucoma Research Foundation).

Because there is no cure for glaucoma, the only way to preserve vision is to diagnose and treat glaucoma in the early stages.

Diabetic Retinopathy Incidence Is Increasing

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that can develop in individuals who have diabetes. Diabetes damages retinal blood vessels which can cause vision loss and blindness. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in adults between the ages of 20 and 74.

The longer people have diabetes, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy. More than 800,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and experts predict the numbers will increase to 1.2 million by 2030. One of the biggest challenges is encouraging people with diabetes to schedule annual comprehensive eye exams so eye doctors can diagnose diabetic retinopathy early.

Importance of Comprehensive Eye Exams

Many eye diseases do not have symptoms in the early stages, but they can cause long-term vision loss or even blindness if they go untreated. Almost 190,000 African Americans suffer from low vision due to undiagnosed or untreated eye conditions.

If it has been over a year since your last comprehensive eye exam, it is time to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. In less than one hour, an eye doctor can assess your vision, test for eye diseases and provide you with helpful information about your eye health.

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