Each year at this time, the U.S. marks National Glaucoma Awareness Month to get Americans to focus on the disease that’s the leading cause of irreversible blindness. More than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and many of those affected don’t even know it. That’s because you can lose up to 40 percent of your sight and not realize it.

If you’re African American, Latino, or Asian, you may be at higher risk for this sight-stealing condition.

African Americans: The Glaucoma Research Foundation reports that glaucoma occurs five times more often in African Americans than in whites—and results in blindness about six times more often. In addition, glaucoma tends to affect African Americans about 10 years earlier than other populations.

Latino populations: Studies show that Latinos also have significantly higher rates of glaucoma than whites and that nearly 80 percent of Latinos with glaucoma do not know they have the disease.

Asian populations: Both African and Latino Americans are more likely than white Americans to have the most common form of glaucoma in the U.S.: open-angle glaucoma (OAG). Asian Americans, however, are at increased risk for all three types of glaucoma: OAG, narrow-angle glaucoma (NAG), and normal-tension glaucoma (NTG). In fact, rates of NAG and NTG are highest in this racial group.

What you can do

Glaucoma is called the “sneak thief of sight” because it often occurs without pain or other symptoms. Because vision lost to glaucoma is gone for good, it’s critical to detect glaucoma as early as possible to prevent or slow down vision loss.

  • Know your risk, especially if you’re African American, Latino, or Asian.
  • Get a complete eye exam, including dilation, every one to two years:
    • Starting at age 35 if you have a family member with glaucoma or are African American.
    • Starting at 60, regardless of race or ethnicity.

If you have glaucoma, consider participating in a clinical trial.

 This is especially important if you’re a member of a population that tends to be underrepresented in clinical research. As a research participant, you may have access to potentially beneficial medications that are still being tested. You also will help researchers develop new medicines that work for people of all racial and ethnic groups. Longer term, that can help reduce health disparities.