Ophthalmologist and Physician-Scientist
Hispanics at Increased Risk of Eye Disease

Hispanics at Increased Risk of Eye Disease

People of various ethnic groups may be more vulnerable to the effects of certain eye diseases. For example, Hispanics often experience much higher rates of eye disease than their Caucasian counterparts. Hispanics can take precautions to prevent vision loss.


Hispanic Americans are especially vulnerable to three serious eye diseases.

Since the early 2000s, population health researchers have noted that Hispanics are disproportionately affected by these three eye diseases.

Glaucoma — The term “glaucoma” does not refer to a single disease, but rather to a group of diseases which cause damage to the optic nerve. Hispanics have a higher risk of developing the most common form of the illness known as open-angle glaucoma, which occurs when the eye does not adequately drain fluid leading to pressure and, eventually, damage to the optic nerve. Open-angle glaucoma causes no obvious early symptoms and develops gradually, meaning it can best be combatted through routine eye examinations. Glaucoma represents the leading cause of blindness in the Hispanic community.

Cataracts — Cataracts develop within the natural lens of the eye, causing clouding and obscured vision. They’re caused by a breakdown of proteins within the natural lens, which clump together and yield a milky appearance within the lens. Cataracts may occur in the back, center or around the periphery of the lens. A 2010 research study shows a majority of Hispanics with cataracts develop nuclear cataracts, which manifest in the center of the lens.

Diabetic retinopathy — As its name implies, diabetic retinopathy is a disease caused by complications arising from diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels negatively impact blood vessels in the eye. Damage to the blood vessels can cause them to swell or grow abnormally, all of which may risk damage to the retina. Diabetic retinopathy occurs more often in Hispanics than in either African Americans or Caucasians. This is due, in part, to the fact that around 10 percent of Hispanics live with diabetes, which is triple the rate of diabetes experienced in the general population, according to the Cleveland Clinic Department of Patient Education and Health Information.


Hispanic Americans seek routine eye care less frequently than other groups.

Although each of the aforementioned eye diseases has different causes, they all have one factor in common: none has early symptoms, which means they can only be caught early through eye examinations performed by an ophthalmologist. Each of these conditions is the most treatable in the early stages.

Unfortunately, on top of being genetically more prone to the development of these serious illnesses, research shows Hispanics are less likely than other groups of Americans to receive routine eye care. According to data presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, a more than 50 percent of the Caucasians surveyed reported they would likely see an eye doctor, while the number of Hispanics who reported doing so amounted to slightly more than one-third.

This disparity in eye care is caused by many factors, including research which suggests Hispanics are less likely to discuss their symptoms when they do visit a doctor’s office. Some of this is attributable to concerns some Hispanics have about language barriers between themselves and their physicians, which can dramatically affect the quality of care they receive. A 2001 study “Proyecto VER” (Spanish for “to see”), which focused on eye health among a Hispanic population from Southern Arizona, noted that of those individuals who showed signs of glaucoma, less than 40 percent of them were aware they had the disease.

Ultimately, a lack of access to routine eye exams and eye health education often prevents this group from receiving early care, which can mean the difference between managing a disease that can cause vision loss and succumbing to its effects.


There are useful resources to help Hispanic people secure help.

Ever since Proyecto VER, the medical research community has increasingly focused on the issue of eye health among Hispanics. A presentation developed by the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), “Enhancing Eye Health Among Hispanics/Latinos,” highlights the most impactful studies done on the issue since Proyecto VER in the early 2000s, including the Los Angeles Latino Eye Studies of 2004 and 2010. The report also highlights results from phone surveys and focus groups centered on Hispanics’ attitudes toward eye health.

All of the data amassed as a result of this research effort is geared toward helping medical professionals and community leaders to understand the most effective ways to educate Hispanics about protecting their vision. In addition, it gives the medical community a better understanding of how to help Hispanic patients feel more comfortable in a medical setting as a means of administering the best possible care.

Americans of all ethnic backgrounds must recognize that eye health is an important part of healthcare, and financial difficulties should not stand in the way of taking care of your sight. There are a number of financial aid programs designed to support people who need to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist, but who lack the financial means to do so.