More than 2.4 million African Americans have an uncorrected vision problem, which puts them at risk for permanent vision loss if left untreated, according to the Vision Council of America.
In addition, the American Diabetes Association says that 11.4 percent of African Americans over age 20 have diabetes, and more than one third remain undiagnosed.
Diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma are common eye diseases seen in people with diabetes. The American Heart Association also notes that African Americans carry a higher risk of hypertension than any other population.
African Americans have one of the highest rates of visual impairment and are almost 70 percent more likely to have visual impairment than Caucasians.
"African Americans often are unable to access preventive vision care services, which increases their risk for undiagnosed vision problems," said optometrist Edwin C. Marshall "Because of the prevalence of serious eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration in this population, regular eye exams are critical.
"An eye exam cannot only help correct vision problems, but it can also detect the earliest warning signs of other serious health conditions, like diabetes and hypertension.
"Too many African Americans skip eye exams because they don't recognize the need for preventive vision care," Marshall added. "This is a grave mistake. I frequently encounter patients and family members of patients who could have avoided permanent vision loss or other serious health complications by seeing an eye doctor regularly."
Aside from visiting an eye doctor for an eye exam, there are several warning signs of potential vision disorders. The Vision Council of America suggests that African Americans be on the lookout for these tell tale visual symptoms:
• Trouble seeing objects at near or far distances;
• Colors that seem faded;
• Poor night vision;
• Double or multiple vision; and
• Loss of peripheral (side) vision.
"If any of these warning signs are present, it's important to contact an eye doctor," said Marshall. "Being proactive is the best way to preserve your vision and maintain your quality of life and independence."