Hispanic Americans and Latinos at Increased Risk

Several significant studies have been conducted to better understand risk of vision loss from glaucoma in Caucasians and African Americans, but until recently, less was known about prevalence and severity of the disease in the Hispanic population — the second largest minority group within the United States.

Hispanics comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the country. It is projected that the number of Hispanics residing in the United States age 55 and older will more than double from 4.8 million in 2006 to 11.4 million in 2025.

A study conducted by a group from the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University in residents over the age of 40 years residing in two counties of Southern Arizona indicated that open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among Hispanics.

Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma, affecting over three million Americans. This study, named Proyecto Ver, also reported that only 38% of Hispanics with glaucoma were aware of their disease. Older age was found to be a very important risk factor for the development of glaucoma in this population of Hispanics.

The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), another large prevalence study funded by the National Eye Institute recently reported an overall prevalence of open-angle glaucoma among Hispanics to be nearly five percent — similar to that found amongst African Americans (glaucoma is reported to be at least four times more common in African Americans than in Caucasians).

The LALES, like Proyecto Ver reported that Hispanics over age 60 are at particularly high risk of glaucoma. Approximately 75% of Hispanics with glaucoma in LALES were not aware that they had the disease.

EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, has highlighted the fact that most Hispanic Americans are unaware they are at higher risk for glaucoma than Caucasian Americans. The recently conducted National Americans Eye Health and Eye Disease Survey found that 76 percent of Hispanics did not know that their ethnicity was a risk factor for glaucoma.

Asians Also At Risk

While open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of glaucoma among Hispanics, Caucasians and African Americans, another form of glaucoma known as acute angle-closure glaucoma has traditionally been more common in certain Asian populations and Americans of Asian descent.

In angle-closure glaucoma the drainage canals get blocked resulting in the eye pressure rising very quickly, often resulting in sudden severe eye pain and vision loss. By contrast, in open-angle glaucoma, the eye’s drainage canal gradually becomes clogged over time, and the pressure within the eye slowly rises because the correct amount of fluid can’t drain out of the eye.

Most individuals with open-angle glaucoma have no symptoms and no early warning signs, and if it is not diagnosed and treated, it can cause a gradual loss of vision which goes without notice until the very late stages when it is more difficult to preserve remaining vision.

A recent increase in open-angle glaucoma in individuals of Chinese ancestry has been linked to the increase in myopia, or nearsightedness, in this population.

National Organizations Working to Raise Awareness

National organizations such as the National Eye Institute, EyeCare America, and the Glaucoma Research Foundation are working to raise awareness in the Hispanic community about the higher risk of glaucoma, especially for those over age 60.

Because glaucoma is a disease that will gradually steal vision and often has no symptoms, it is important for anyone at higher than average risk to have a complete eye examination every one to two years.

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Article by Kuldev Singh, MD, MPH, Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford University where he is the Director of Glaucoma Service.

Last reviewed on May 24, 2012

This article appeared in the January 2008 issue of Gleams. Subscribe

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