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Minority Women's Health

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Glaucoma and cataracts

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Blindness affects African-Americans more frequently than whites and Hispanics. Glaucoma and cataracts can lead to blindness and are serious problems for African-Americans.

Glaucoma (glaw-KOH-muh) is a group of diseases that can harm the eye's optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness. The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers that takes the images we see to the brain. A healthy optic nerve is needed for good vision. The rate of glaucoma is five times higher in African-Americans than in whites. Glaucoma is also 15 times more likely to cause blindness in African-Americans than in whites.

Glaucoma often has few or no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing a halo around lights
  • Reddening of the eye
  • Severe eye pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

It's important to get treatment for glaucoma right away. With early treatment, you can often avoid major vision loss. If glaucoma is not treated, you may start missing things to the side or out of the corner of your eye. Over time, straight-ahead vision may get worse and you may become blind.

A cataract (KAT-uh-rakt) is a clouding of the eye's lens. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery. Symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Cloudy or blurry vision
  • Colors looking faded
  • Poor night vision
  • Seeing double
  • Seeing a halo around lights

See an eye doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.

There are things you can do to help protect your vision:

  • Get regular eye checkups because eye diseases don't always have symptoms. African-Americans over age 40 should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, you need an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you should have your eyes checked.
  • Protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Eat healthy foods, including lots of fruits and green leafy vegetables.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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