New Nationwide Survey Reveals African-Americans Not Prioritizing Their Eyes

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Like many diseases, vision problems disproportionately affect African-Americans. Glaucoma, a condition where the fluid pressure inside the eye is too high, is one of the leading causes of blindness for Americans. However, glaucoma is five times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians and four times more likely to cause blindness.

ArtistBecause of this, it is particularly important for African-Americans to have regular eye exams. In fact, seeing an eye care professional may not only detect vision conditions and the need for updated spectacle and contact lens prescriptions, it may also lead to a diagnosis of other health concerns, such as diabetes and hypertension, conditions that disproportionately impact African-Americans as well. It is estimated that African-Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes than Caucasians and 1.5 times more likely to die from heat disease or stroke.

According to a new survey, many African-Americans are not prioritizing vision care for themselves or their children. More than 3,700 adults of varying ethnic backgrounds (African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Caucasians) expressed their attitudes toward, perceptions of and experiences with vision care in the nationwide Americans' Attitudes and Perceptions About Vision Care survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive® on behalf of The Vision Care Institute™ of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

More than nine out of 10 African-American respondents (93 percent) agree that maintaining proper vision is an important priority to them. Yet 21 percent say they do not have a regular eye care professional and one-quarter (24 percent) say it has been more than two years since their last eye exam.

It is estimated that nearly one in four school-age children have vision problems and one out of 10 teenagers have undetected or untreated vision problems. However, almost one-third (30 percent) of African-American parents surveyed report that their child has never seen an eye care professional.

While the survey reveals similarities and common beliefs about vision care among people of different ethnic backgrounds, it's also a cause for concern because adults and children who are at greater risk for certain eye conditions and diseases are not receiving proper diagnosis and treatment. Early detection and treatment of eye-health issues can help lessen or prevent permanent visual impairment.

National Glaucoma Awareness Month in January should be a reminder to schedule an eye exam for yourself and your child. Some vision conditions, like glaucoma, have no symptoms until the disease is advanced. Visiting your local eye care professional and having a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years can reveal risk factors, slow disease progression and save vision.

Medicare covers an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam for patients at high risk for glaucoma and diabetes. There is also a program sponsored by the American Optometric Association that offers free comprehensive infant eye examinations to children within the first year of life, called InfantSEE™. For information on the InfantSEE program and a list of participating doctors, visit www.infantsee.org.

Lack of awareness and treatment for eye conditions negatively impact the academic, vocational, social and athletic performance of children and adults in African-American communities.

Other findings of note from the survey, which evaluated a variety of vision care attitudes and practices, include the following:

  • Four in five African-Americans (79 percent) say people should get their eyes examined at least once a year. However, less than half (47 percent) of African-Americans have had an eye exam within the past year.
  • Only two-thirds (66 percent) of African-Americans know exactly what nearsightedness is; three in five (61 percent) know exactly what farsightedness is; less than half (43 percent) know exactly what astigmatism is.
  • African-Americans are unfamiliar with available treatment for vision conditions.
    • One-third (34 percent) do not know there is treatment for astigmatism.
    • One-quarter (23 percent) do not know there is treatment for glaucoma.
    • Presbyopia (gradual loss of the eye's ability to change focus for seeing near objects) typically begins after age 40; yet only one in five African-Americans (21 percent) know exactly what it is and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of African-Americans do not know there is treatment for the condition.

Dr. Derrick Artis is director of professional affairs at Vistakon®, a Division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. in Jacksonville, FL.

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