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The analysis included data from more than 4,600 participants in the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES). Most of the study participants were of Mexican descent and aged 40 and older. In the four years after the participants enrolled in the study, the Latinos' rates of visual impairment and blindness were the highest of any ethnic group in the country, compared to other U.S. studies of different populations.
Nearly 3% of the study participants developed visual impairment and 0.3% developed blindness in both eyes. Among those aged 80 and older, 19.4% became visually impaired and 3.8% became blind in both eyes.
The study also found that 34% of participants with diabetes developed diabetic retinopathy (damage to the eye's retina), with the highest rate among those aged 40 to 59. The longer someone had diabetes, the more likely they were to develop diabetic retinopathy -- 42% of those with diabetes for more than 15 years developed the eye disease.
Participants who had visual impairment, blindness or diabetic retinopathy in one eye at the start of the study had high rates of developing the condition in the other eye, the study authors noted.
The researchers also found that Latinos were more likely to develop cataracts in the center of the eye lens than at the edge of the lens (10.2% versus 7.5%, respectively), with about half of those aged 70 and older developing cataracts in the center of the lens.
"This study showed that Latinos develop certain vision conditions at different rates than other ethnic groups. The burden of vision loss and eye disease on the Latino community is increasing as the population ages, and many eye diseases are becoming more common," Dr. Rohit Varma, principal investigator of LALES and director of the Ocular Epidemiology Center at the Doheny Eye Institute, University of Southern California, said in a news release from the U.S. National Eye Institute.
The findings are published in four reports in the May issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology.
"These data have significant public health implications and present a challenge for eye care providers to develop programs to address the burden of eye disease in Latinos," Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute, said in the news release.
The U.S. National Eye Institute provided funding for LALES.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: U.S. National Eye Institute, news release, May 1, 2010