Blacks less likely to get eye care

Blacks are less likely to receive regular eye checkups than some other ethnic groups.

According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Vision Care Institute of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, while the ethnic backgrounds are different, many of the groups share similar beliefs. Many of these beliefs, or self-diagnoses, are a large part of the reason why certain ethnic groups, blacks in particular, don’t receive proper eye care.

“A lot of patients don’t receive regular eye exams because they’re too busy to fit it into their schedule. They may have money or insurance issues, or they think they know when something is wrong,” said Dr. Susan Whaley, an optometrist at Tallahassee Eye Center. Whaley said of her 3,500 patients over the past two years, only between 10 to 15 percent have been black.

Many people are not aware of how often they should receive an eye exam. Nor are they aware of when they should begin to see an eye care physician. Whaley said the first visit to the optometrist should be at age three. Generally, people under 40 years old should receive eye checkups every one to three years depending on different risk factors. People who wear contact lenses and eye glasses and people over the age of 40 should receive annual checkups.

Leatrice Dixon, 21, a senior health science student from Florence, S.C., admits she didn’t see an optometrist by three years old. Nor does she receive the recommended annual eye checkup for a contact lens wearer.

“The last time I saw an eye doctor was about a year and half ago; my eyes seem fine,” Dixon said. “And I didn’t have my first trip to the eye doctor until I was about seven years old. I had to get glasses.”

According to the study conducted by Harris Interactive, blacks are five times more likely to suffer from glaucoma than any other ethnic group.

A visit to the optometrist often has additional benefits.

“When a patient visits an eye care professional, so much more than vision is being checked,” Whaley said. “We look for everything.”

David Logan, a sophomore electrical engineering student from Raleigh, N.C., said he has never visited an optometrist.

“I’ve gotten my eyes checked at the doctor, but I’ve never been to an actual eye doctor,” Logan said. “I don’t have problems with my eyes; my vision is good. If my vision starts to get bad then maybe I’ll go to an optometrist.”

Traces of glaucoma, retinal tears or any other eye complications can be devastating when left undiagnosed.

There are many who may have these diseases and not even know it. One of the largest problems with not seeing an eye physician is that many eye conditions go undiagnosed. Several eye conditions like glaucoma, which is more likely to effect blacks, have no immediate symptoms.

“A person can have perfect vision and have glaucoma and not even know until their vision starts to go,” Whaley said.

For those who have never visited an optometrist, there are some things that can be done to help reduce the risk of some vision complications.

“Wear sunglasses because protection from ultraviolet light is important,” Whaley said.

“And also wearing safety glasses during some activities are good ways to try and prevent some problems.”