Should Middle-Aged African Americans Be Screened For Glaucoma?

A U.S. Navy glaucoma test (Wikimedia Commons)

Just last week, my father was nagging me — wait, did I say nag? I meant remindingme — about the importance of being screened regularly for glaucoma. He recalled that his eye doctor once told him that if caught early, it’s no problem; caught late, you can go blind.

So I noted with interest this study just out from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and elsewhere. It used computer modeling to calculate the costs and benefits of routinely screening African-American patients in their fifties for glaucoma, and concluded that it made economic and clinical sense, though its benefits were modest.

From the press release:

Boston (March 12, 2012) – Implementing a routine national glaucoma screening program for middle-age African American patients may be clinically effective; however its potential effect on reducing visual impairment and blindness may be modest, according to a computer-based mathematical model reported in the March issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Dr. Louis Pasquale, Co-Director of the Mass. Eye and Ear Glaucoma Center of Excellence, was the senior author on this paper.

“Primary open-angle glaucoma is a chronic, degenerative disease that affects more than 2.2 million Americans and 1.9 percent of Americans older than 40 years,” the authors write as background in the study. “The high prevalence of undiagnosed glaucoma contributes to visual loss, an outcome that is disproportionately common in African American individuals, where as many as 11 percent of elderly patients develop blindness.” Continue reading