Glaucoma: Asian American Medical Hazard

Glaucoma in the eye on our left

A recently released study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology reveals that Asian Americans are at an increased risk of developing GlaucomaGlaucoma is an eye disease that  damages the optic nerve and can cause blindness if untreated.  By reviewing the insurance records of more than 44,000 Asian Americans over 40, researchers determined that Asian Americans over 40 as an aggregate have a 6.5% risk of developing Glaucoma, fairly close to the same risk level as Hispanics of that age group.  By contrast, similar African Americans had a 12% risk and non-Hispanic whites had a risk of 5.2%.

There are three types of Glaucoma, open-angle (OAG, the most common form), narrow-angle (NAG), and normal-tension (NTG).  Asian Americans had the highest risk of all ethnic groups for NAG, which happens when the part of the eye that drains fluid is blocked, causing damaging pressure to build up. Chinese and Vietnamese Americans have the highest risk for this type.  Japanese Americans had the highest risk for developing NTG glaucoma.  Glaucoma is usually characterized by increased pressure in the eye, but the NTG form has normal pressure in the eye, meaning that it can’t be detected by the typical Glaucoma tests you may get from your ophthalmologist or optometrist. Dr. Joshua D. Stein of the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, who led the study, states:

“For example, the inner eye angle anatomy of patients of Chinese or Vietnamese ancestry should be carefully examined. And since NTG won’t be detected by simply measuring intraocular pressure (IOP), eye doctors need to assess the status of the optic nerve in patients whose ethnicity makes them more susceptible to this type of glaucoma.”

What I found particularly insightful about this study was that it separated the incidence rates by individual Asian subgroups, not just aggregating them together.  It reveals that there are clear risks and diagnostic options depending on the specific Asian ethnicity of patients.  The full text of the study can be obtained from the Academy’s media relations department.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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