African Americans Have Special Eye Care Needs

The American Optometric Association emphasizes preventive eye exams for all populations. Having your eyes examined annually (unless otherwise directed by your doctor) is particularly important for African Americans due to unique risks and health needs.

Unfortunately, recent studies show that African Americans are actually less likely than other ethnic groups to visit the eye doctor regularly. A2006 study by Harris Interactive and Johnson and Johnson Vision Care Institute revealed that 24% of African Americans said it had been more than two years since their last eye exam. This trend is particularly disturbing because people of African American descent are at higher risk for the very diseases that comprehensive eye exams with dilation can detect.


African Americans are six to eight times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans, responsible for 19% of blindness in African Americans (versus 6% of blindness in whites). Glaucoma can only be detected with a comprehensive eye exam.

Heart Disease

Nearly 40% of African Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease. Because comprehensive eye exams provide an unobstructed view of blood vessels, they can detect the early signs of high blood pressure and related diseases before symptoms manifest elsewhere. Early detection leads to better treatment and improved quality of life.


African Americans are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes than whites, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). More than 11% of African Americans over age 20 have diabetes, but one-third don't know it (ADA). Diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease resulting from diabetes, is 40% to 50% more common in African Americans than whites.

Comprehensive eye exams not only help detect diabetes, they monitor the eye for complications resulting from the disease. Because diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness, such prevention could save your sight.

Other Diseases

Sarcoidosis, a disease affecting African American women, manifests itself in the eye.Sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder most often seen in African Americans, can cause abnormal blood vessels or bleeding in the retina. Proper attention to eye health can help prevent these complications before they become serious.

What can African Americans do to reduce the risk of eye damage from these conditions? First, make sure you go to the eye doctor annually, especially if you have a family history or other risk factors for conditions mentioned here.

You can learn more about these conditions from the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the Glaucoma Research Foundation.