Eye disease does not affect all races equally. African Americans are more likely to develop certain eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy yet are less likely to receive necessary eye surgery.
Disparities in Cataract Treatment
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye. Most people over the age of 40 have at least one developing cataract, which will continue to worsen unless treated with cataract surgery. Common symptoms of cataracts include:
- Blurred, clouded or dimmed vision
- Sensitivity to light and glare
- Difficulty seeing at night and driving at night
- Double vision
- Seeing halos around lights
- Colors appear faded or yellow
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 Caucasian Americans to have cataracts removed.
African Americans Are at Higher Risk for Glaucoma
Glaucoma is an optic nerve disease that can cause permanent eye damage. Next to cataracts, primary open-angle glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among African Americans and individuals of African descent. In addition, in African Americans, glaucoma develops earlier and faster, and it is six times more likely to cause blindness (Glaucoma Research Foundation).
Glaucoma has been referred to as is the “sneak thief of sight” because it can develop without pain or symptoms. Because there is no cure for glaucoma, the only way to preserve vision in those with the disease 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 with diabetes, causing blood vessel damage, vision loss and even blindness. The longer an individual has diabetes, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy.
African Americans are 1.7 times more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians. More than 825,000 African Americans have diabetic retinopathy, and experts predict the numbers will increase to 1.2 million by 2030.
Importance of Comprehensive Eye Exams
Many eye diseases do not show symptoms in the early stages, but they can cause long-term vision loss or even blindness if they go undetected. However, through comprehensive eye exams with dilation, providers can diagnose eye diseases early when they are still easy to treat.
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, your eye doctor can assess your vision, test for eye diseases and provide you with helpful information to keep your eyes healthy and your vision clear.