When we talk about eye health, it’s essential to look beyond clear vision. Eye health is a vital aspect of one’s overall health, affecting our daily lives and serving as a signifier of other health conditions. However, the disparity in healthcare and eye care has led to a disproportionate rate of eye diseases in the Black community. African Americans are at a higher risk for eye diseases, including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Moreover, these conditions are often linked to other health conditions that affect general health, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Many of these eye diseases also don’t exhibit symptoms in the early stages. As a result, Black communities experience significantly higher rates of vision loss and blindness caused by eye diseases.
We’ve previously written about the lack of healthcare equity and its detrimental impact on Black women. For one, Black women have the highest mortality rate — three times the rate per woman — even though Black women make up just 7% of the population of the US. Combined with the increased risk of eye diseases, it’s vital to consider healthcare inaccessibility’s impact on the Black community’s eye health.
Diabetes in the Black community
As mentioned above, diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease caused by diabetes. This is caused by high blood sugar levels that lead to blood vessel leakage, swelling, scar tissue formation, and abnormal new blood vessel growth in the eyes. This condition can cause vision loss and other complications like retinal detachment.
Making matters worse is the fact that Black communities are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. 13.4% of Black men and 12.7% of Black women have been diagnosed with diabetes — a rate 60% higher than that of white people. This puts Black people significantly more at risk of developing eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy.
Glaucoma in the black community
Glaucoma is a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve. This can be caused by high pressure in the eye, although it may also occur with normal eye pressure. The condition usually happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye, increasing pressure. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause gradual vision loss.
Much like diabetes, the prevalence of glaucoma among Black individuals is five times higher than their white counterparts. Worse, Black patients are six times more likely to go blind due to the disease. Compared to other populations, Black patients also tend to develop glaucoma approximately ten years earlier. It’s worth noting that Black people with a family history of glaucoma have a 20% higher risk of developing the disease than those without.
The future of access to eye care for Black communities
On the bright side, the outlook isn’t all bad. Nowadays, eye care essentials such as prescription glasses have become more accessible as they can easily be acquired online via retailer websites. Prescription glasses are essential for vision correction, helping people see more clearly.
Depending on your needs, you can opt for various eyewear brands with prescription lenses in single-vision and progressive lenses. New and advanced lens technologies also provide helpful optical features such as anti-glare, oleophobic, and hydrophobic properties for daily activities and outdoors.
At the same time, doctors and optometrists in the Black community continue working on expanding healthcare services such as clinics to provide care for people who have diabetes associated with visual complications and glaucoma. Providing access to routine eye exams can help doctors diagnose and use therapy or medications to help maintain the visual system and handle eye health issues. This is important because while four of five Black people acknowledge eye exams should occur every year, less than half of the people in the Black community actually get their eyes examined due to barriers to accessibility.
While there are still some ways to go, maintaining good eye health in the Black community will be a huge step forward in improving the quality of life for everyone.