Latinos Have Higher Rates of Vision Loss and Disease, Underscoring Importance of Regular Exams

Latinos have higher rates of developing visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease and cataracts than non-​Hispanic whites, according to a new report conducted by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health.  These are the first estimates of visual impairment and eye disease development in Latinos, say researchers that were part of the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES).

"This study showed that Latinos develop certain vision conditions at different rates than other ethnic groups," stated Rohit Varma, principal investigator of LALES and director of the Ocular Epidemiology Center at the Doheny Eye Institute, University of Southern California. "The burden of vision loss and eye disease on the Latino community is increasing as the population ages, and many eye diseases are becoming more common."

Hispanics numbered 45 million in the United States as of 2007, according to the Census Bureau.  LALES began in 2000 as the nation's largest and most comprehensive study of vision in Latinos. In the current phase of LALES, researchers examined more than 4,600 Latinos four years after they initially enrolled in the study to determine the development of new eye disease and the progression of existing conditions, including visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease, age-​related macular degeneration, and cataracts.  Participants were mainly of Mexican descent, age 40 years and older, and living in the city of La Puente, Los Angeles County, CA.

"These data have significant public health implications and present a challenge for eye care providers to develop programs to address the burden of eye disease in Latinos," stated NEI director Paul Sieving. "NEI has a strong record of commitment to educating the Latino community and healthcare providers about eye diseases through its National Eye Health Education Program, and will continue to make this a priority."

LALES researchers found that over the four-​year interval, Latinos developed visual impairment and blindness at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the country, when compared with estimates from other U.S. population-​based studies. Overall, nearly 3% of Latinos developed visual impairment and 0.3% developed blindness in both eyes, with older adults impacted more frequently. Of Latinos age 80 years and older, 19.4% became visually impaired, and 3.8% became blind in both eyes.

U.S. Latinos also were more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than non-​Hispanic whites. Over the four-​year period, 34% of Latinos who had diabetes developed diabetic retinopathy, with Latinos ages 40 to 59 years having the highest rate. Though increasing age did not play a role, Latinos with a longer duration of diabetes were more likely to develop the disease. In fact, 42% of Latinos with diabetes for more than 15 years developed diabetic retinopathy. Also, among participants who had diabetic retinopathy at the beginning of the study, 39% showed worsening of the disease four years later.

Researchers found that Latinos who already had visual impairment, blindness, or diabetic retinopathy in one eye when they began the study had very high rates of developing the condition in the other eye during the study. More than half of participants who already had diabetic retinopathy in one eye developed it in the other eye.

"These results underscore the importance of Latinos, especially those with diabetes, getting regular, dilated eye exams to monitor their eye health," Varma said. "Eye care professionals should closely monitor Latinos who have eye disease in one eye because their quality of life can be dramatically impacted if they develop the condition in both eyes."

[Source:  "U.S. Latinos Have High Rates of Developing Vision Loss and Certain Eye Conditions."  National Eye Insitute (NEI)/National Institute of Health. 1 May 2010.  Web.  10 May 2010.]