The Minority/ Black Health Blog  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More Than 1 Million African Americans Are Blind -- and Researchers Say They've Discovered Why That Number is So High!

Blind African American man

According to the National Federation of the Blind, about 1,117,000 African Americans have a visual disability. And according to the Centers For Disease Control, African Americans over age 40 have a much higher risk of developing glaucoma than do whites, and are more likely to experience permanent blindness as a result of glaucoma.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that the oxygen levels in the eyes of African Americans with glaucoma and/or cataracts are significantly higher than those of whites.

What they suspect might be the cause

Higher oxygen levels in the eyes can prevent the eyes from draining properly. This will increase pressure in the eyes, and higher pressure on the optic nerve can lead to blindness. Although the study did not initially target African Americans, the difference in oxygen levels was so significant that it warranted further investigation.

Next steps in research

The discovery lead to a four-year grant from the National Eye Institute to further investigate the association of increased oxygen levels in the eyes with increased risk of glaucoma and blindness. According to researchers in the study, glaucoma is about six times more common in African-Americans, and blindness caused by glaucoma is 16 times more likely to occur in African-Americans than in whites.

As study author Carla J. Siegfried, MD explained, "When we understand the underlying reason for elevated oxygen and how it may damage the eye, we will be in a better position to develop ways to prevent this disease.”

To read more about the study, visit news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/22490.aspx
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