Latinos have higher rates of developing visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease, and cataracts than non-Hispanic whites, researchers found. These are the first estimates of visual impairment and eye disease development in Latinos, the largest and fastest growing minority population in the United States.
The research was part of the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), which was supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health. LALES began in 2000 as the nation’s largest and most comprehensive study of vision in Latinos.
In the current phase of LALES, researchers examined more than 4,600 Latinos four years after they initially enrolled in the study to determine the development of new eye disease and the progression of existing conditions, including visual impairment, blindness, diabetic eye disease, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts.
LALES researchers found that over the four-year interval, Latinos developed visual impairment and blindness at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the country, when compared with estimates from other U.S. population-based studies. Overall, nearly 3 percent of Latinos developed visual impairment and 0.3 percent developed blindness in both eyes, with older adults impacted more frequently. Of Latinos age 80 and older, 19.4 percent became visually impaired, and 3.8 percent became blind in both eyes.
U.S. Latinos were also more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than non-Hispanic whites. Over the four-year period, 34 percent of Latinos who had diabetes developed diabetic retinopathy, with Latinos aged 40 to 59 having the highest rate. Though increasing age did not play a role, Latinos with a longer duration of diabetes were more likely to develop the disease. In fact, 42 percent of Latinos with diabetes for more than 15 years developed diabetic retinopathy. Also, among participants who had diabetic retinopathy at the beginning of the study, 39 percent showed worsening of the disease four years later.
Researchers found that Latinos who already had visual impairment, blindness, or diabetic retinopathy in one eye when they began the study had very high rates of developing the condition in the other eye during the study. More than half of participants who already had diabetic retinopathy in one eye developed it in the other eye.
In addition, LALES showed that Latinos were more likely to develop cataracts in the center of the lens (10.2 percent) than the edge of the lens (7.5 percent). Many of these lens changes were age-related, as 50 percent of Latinos age 70 and older developed cataracts in the center of the lens.