Don’t Be Blind Sighted

Glaucoma Affects African Americans Differently

There have been several studies focusing on ways Glaucoma affects different ethnic groups compared to African Americans. The findings were consistent: Glaucoma occurs approximately five times more often in African Americans than other ethnic groups, and blindness is nearly six times more common and occurs on average, about ten years earlier than those of European descent. African Americans are at greater risk of Glaucoma, and it is one of our leading causes of blindness.

African Americans that fit in the groups below have a greater risk of a Glaucoma diagnosis:

  • Over age 40
  • Extreme nearsightedness
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Prolonged steroid use

What Else Do We Know

The disease strikes earlier and progresses faster in African Americans, most of whom are unaware they have the disease. Also, our risk for Glaucoma is approximately 20% higher if the disease exists in your family. The Mayo Clinic defines Glaucoma as a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, often caused by abnormally high pressure in your eye. There are many forms of glaucoma, some of which have no warning signs because you may not notice gradual vision changes until the condition is at an advanced stage.

Keeping up with regular eye exams is key, as vision loss due to glaucoma cannot be recovered. Medical practitioners suggest African Americans have a thorough check for glaucoma every one to two years after age 35. The eye exams should include eye pressure measurements used as a baseline comparison so a diagnosis can be made in early stages and treated appropriately. If you have the condition, early vision loss can be slowed or prevented when the needed treatment is provided. 

Differences for African American vs European American

The findings from several studies were consistent in that the onset of glaucoma begins earlier and at a more aggressive state in African Americans than in Caucasians and Asians. However, some researchers stated that when comparing Americans of African vs European descent there were characteristics in the eyes of African Americans that made them more vulnerable to glaucoma: thin Corneas and larger Optic Nerves. They reported that people who tend to have thin Corneas are generally at risk of Glaucoma and people with larger Optic nerves are often misdiagnosed with Glaucoma.

Those researchers believe the information regarding the thin Corneas and the larger Optic Nerve may partially explain why African Americans are more vulnerable. Their research concludes by stating the findings do not explain why African Americans who have been diagnosed with Glaucoma have a more rapid progression than those diagnosed of European descent. Other researchers believe the differences may not be due to genetic factors at all but rather social-economic inequalities like early diagnosis and poor access to treatment.

Where to Start

In the United States, Glaucoma costs Americans approximately $2.9 billion. The average glaucoma patient incurs an additional $2,903 to their total annual healthcare costs and higher outpatient costs by $2,599. Treating and preventing glaucoma costs approximately $5.8 billion per year in the United States, and this number is expected to rise to $12 billion by 2032 and $17.3 billion by 2050. Prescription drugs are the main reason for the high cost.

Early detection is vital to prevent the progression of glaucoma and there are several interventions, including tele-glaucoma (especially for rural areas), regular glaucoma screening, genetic testing, a stronger educational push, more medication/surgery studies, and more diverse healthcare providers.

Several treatment options may include prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser treatment, surgery or a combination of any of these. Treatment varies for everyone, but the most important goal when it comes to Glaucoma is to prevent further damage and sight loss by your eye doctor identifying and monitoring your target eye pressure. 

Don’t Be Blind Sighted, Early Detection and Intervention Is Key! 

For Further Reading:,than%20in%20other%20ethnic%20populations.