Undetected Vision Problems In
African American Children

Keyword: vision problems in African American children
According to the Vision Council eight percent of what children learn is through visual processing of information. Undetected vision problems among children can severely impact cognitive development.

  • Nearly one-third (30 percent) of African-American parents report that their child has never seen an eye care professional (2006 survey).

  • There is a disproportionate rate of vision problems in African American children.

  • Many health and vision problems such as Glaucoma disproportionately affect African Americans.

  • Early detection and treatment of vision problems are key to preventing permanent vision loss in children.

The warning signs of potential vision problems include:
  • Squinting, closing or covering on eye
  • Constantly holding materials close to the face
  • Tilting the head to one side
  • Rubbing eyes repeatedly
  • One or both eye turn in or out
  • Redness or tearing in eyes.

Undetected vision problems can affect children's cognitive, emotional, neurologic and physical development.

The National Eye Institute in its Health Disparities Strategic Plan find some eye diseases and conditions have a greater prevalence in minority populations and result in increased blindness or visual impairment compared to other populations. These include glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataract, and refractive errors.

A recent study of causes and prevalence of visual impairment suggested that glaucoma and cataract account for over 60 percent of the blindness in black adults in this country, and in spite of a highly effective surgical treatment, cataract causes approximately 50 percent of the bilateral low vision in Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites. Furthermore, the study found that glaucoma is three times more prevalent in African-Americans than in Whites, and it is the number one cause of blindness in African-Americans.


Treatments to slow the progression of the disease are available; however, at least half of those who have glaucoma are not receiving treatment because they are unaware of their condition. Findings from the Advanced Glaucoma Intervention Study suggest that black and white patients with advanced glaucoma respond differently to two surgical treatments for the disease. Although both groups benefit from treatment, scientists found that Blacks with advanced glaucoma benefit more from a regimen that begins with laser surgery, while Whites benefit more from one that begins with an operation called a trabeculectomy.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Data from 8 population-based surveys indicated that there are 4.1 million adults in the U.S. with diabetic retinopathy, or 1 person for every 12 with diabetes. This study also found that diabetic retinopathy was more prevalent in Hispanics and Blacks compared to Whites and that vision threatening diabetic retinopathy was likewise more prevalent in these groups compared to Whites.

Diabetic retinopathy has also been shown to occur more often in Blacks than in whites, but this difference was not explained by differences in risk factors alone. Rather, the results suggested that the differences may be due to a greater susceptibility to the adverse effects of hyperglycemia and/or blood pressure.

A recent study suggested that a high percentage of Blacks with type 1 diabetes do not receive adequate care and improvements in screening and access to eye care professionals is needed. Another study found that being eligible both for Medicare and Medicaid was associated with not receiving routine diabetes care.

The finding that a high percentage of Blacks and Hispanics have severe diabetic retinopathy at initial presentation for treatment, strongly argues for earlier referral from primary care physicians and increased public education efforts. Although currently recommended treatments are over 95 percent effective in preventing further vision loss, about half of those who could benefit from treatment are being treated.

In Blacks under-treatment has been reported for cataract, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma.

This site desires to help motivate at-risk populations to have regular eye exams.

Free Publications To Help Detect Vision Problems

National Eye Health Education Program

Educating Your Community About Vision in Children and Adolescents

Educating Your Community About Glaucoma Diabetic Eye Disease: An Educator's Guide

Educating Your Community About Cataract

Refractive Errors

The Vision Council

View the Vision Council report and find state laws regarding vision assessments for children.

Vision Problems in Autism and Asperger Syndrome

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