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Racial and Ethnic Differences in Macular Degeneration: Hispanic or Latinos

Macular degeneration is currently the leading cause of vision loss in America. It affects more than 10 million people – more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. Macular degeneration does not affect all groups of people at the same rate. It affects Caucasians more than people of Hispanic/Latino background, African-Americans, or Chinese Americans.1

This article covers general information about macular degeneration as well as what we know about this disease among Hispanic or Latino people.

How does macular degeneration develop?

The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye. It is responsible for receiving light energy through the pupil and transforming that energy into signals that go to the brain.1 This is the basic process that enables us to see.

Macular degeneration happens when the central part of your retina, called the macula, is damaged. This leads to impaired vision, particularly in the center of your eye. This is the area responsible for your ability to read, drive, recognize faces, and see fine detail.1

About 80 percent of people with macular degeneration have what’s known as dry AMD. In dry AMD, you develop small clumps of fatty, yellow-looking cells in the back of the eye. These clumps are called drusen.2 Over time, Drusen can grow and cause more damage to your vision.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Although macular degeneration can develop in children and teens, by far the most cases of the disease occur in people over 50. That’s why the condition is frequently known as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD.3

Different numbers among ethnic groups

In the United States, white Americans have the highest chance of developing AMD. As of 2010, 2.5 percent of white adults over 50 had AMD.

The numbers are lower for people with different ethnic backgrounds by age 504:

  • Caucasians: 2.5 percent
  • Latino/Hispanic: 0.9 percent
  • African-Americans: 0.9 percent
  • Other: 0.9 percent

The difference is even greater when you look at AMD by age 80:4

  • Caucasians: 14 percent
  • Latino/Hispanic: 2 percent
  • African-Americans: 2 percent
  • Other: 2 percent

Macular degeneration in Hispanics leads to worse quality of life

Recent research shows that AMD takes a heavy toll on the quality of life for Hispanic or Latino people. One study looked at nearly 5,000 Latino residents of Los Angeles County, CA.5

Key important distinctions identified during this study include:5

  • Latinos experience worse quality of life in early stages of the disease than in later stages.
  • 80 percent of people with early AMD reported trouble driving, compared to 43 percent with late AMD.
  • 74 percent of people with early AMD said they had trouble in social situations, whereas 68 percent of people with late AMD said the same thing.
  • Since Latinos may have less access to medical care, they might not get the follow-up care they need, and their quality of life might be even more diminished.

Health care providers need to treat earlier

The results of this study make it clear to healthcare providers that they need to focus on finding earlier ways to care for people developing AMD instead of treating advanced stages of the disease.5

It also implies that finding ways to measure quality of life and well-being are important in understanding how a disease affects an individual. Measurements like vision loss might not tell the whole story about what a particular disease means to you or your loved one.5

A growing population

This research is important, because Latinos are now 17 percent of the US population, and they will be 29 percent by 2060. According to the National Eye Institute, between 2010 and 2050, Hispanics will have the highest increase in AMD – at 6 times the number of 2010 cases.4

As the population ages, more people will get AMD, and it is important to know how to diagnose and treat them so they have the best quality of life possible.

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