Eye disease does not affect all races equally. Studies show that Black individuals may be at increased risk for chronic eye conditions like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
November Is National Diabetes Month
Diabetic eye disease is a family of eye conditions affecting people with diabetes. These include the following:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Diabetic macular edema
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects 11.7 percent of non-Hispanic Black Americans compared to 7.5 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans.
Diabetic eye disease is a leading cause of vision loss, so it’s important to detect it early. Unfortunately, in many cases, diabetic eye disease has no early warning signs, so getting treatment as soon as possible is essential.
Black Patients Are at Increased Risk for Diabetic Retinopathy
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) often occurs with long-term diabetes. It affects blood vessels in the retina and can cause vision loss and blindness.
Although there are few symptoms of DR in the early stages, people may experience floaters, blurred vision, fluctuating vision, shadows and missing areas of sight. Data from the Salisbury Eye Evaluation (SEE) study found that Black individuals were four times as likely as white individuals to have vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, DR causes 17 percent of vision loss among Black individuals.
Black Individuals Are More Likely to Develop Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affects the optic nerve, which transmits visual signals to the brain. Black individuals are five times more likely to develop glaucoma than white individuals and are six times more likely to go blind from glaucoma. The disease also typically strikes Black patients 10 years earlier than other ethnicities.
Often known as the “sneak thief of sight,” glaucoma usually has no symptoms in the early stages. However, once the condition is diagnosed, it often has already caused permanent vision loss. Black individuals with a family history of glaucoma should be especially vigilant, as they are at a 20 percent higher risk for glaucoma than those with no family history of the disease.
Importance of Annual Comprehensive Eye Exams
The most effective way to prevent eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration is by scheduling annual comprehensive eye exams.
“Being that Black patients do not get eye exams as early or frequently, this increases risk for or prevalence of conditions like glaucoma and diabetic or hypertensive retinopathy going undetected,” said Darryl Glover, OD, a private practitioner from Durham, North Carolina. “This puts Black patients in a disadvantaged position by setting off a cascade of events that negatively impact how they function in life. Overall, we need to see all walks of life earlier and more frequently, especially in the Black community” (Healio).
Call Your Ophthalmologist for a Comprehensive Eye Exam
When was the last time you had a comprehensive eye exam? Call your ophthalmologist to verify the date of your last eye exam with dilation. Individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension must be especially vigilant, as they may be at increased risk for eye disease. Your eyes offer a window into your overall health, so contact your eye care center today.