Studies show that most Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, rank loss of eyesight as one of the worst health conditions to have because of its negative impact on quality of life. Yet many fail to get the regular eye exams that could help prevent vision loss by discovering problems early, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 61 million U.S. adults are at high risk for serious vision loss, and only half have visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months. If you or someone you know is overdue for a vision exam, now—National Eye Exam Month—may be the perfect time to make that appointment.

That’s especially true for members of minority populations, who are at greater risk than whites for potentially blinding conditions, including glaucoma and diseases of the retina. These conditions tend to have few, if any, early symptoms. Without a routine eye exam, including dilation, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy often go undetected until after they’ve caused significant—and sometimes lasting—damage.

Are you at risk?

Your risk level depends, in part, on your family history, your health, and your race or ethnicity. U.S. minority populations are all at greater risk of glaucoma than whites. The same is true for diabetic retinopathy, which is a leading cause of blindness among working-age American adults.

Diabetic retinopathy is caused by damage to blood vessels in the eye due to diabetes—a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S.

  • Overall, 9.4% of Americans are living with diabetes.
  • The numbers are even higher for Hispanics (12.1%), African Americans (12.7%), and American Indians/Alaska Natives (15.1%).
  • Of those with diabetes, minority populations are two to three times more likely to develop significant vision complications.

What can you do?

Start by making eye health a priority. If it’s been years since you’ve been to the eye doctor, use National Eye Exam Month to get back on track. Schedule an exam, including dilation, to assess your vision health and identify potential problems. Then, follow up with routine exams on the schedule recommended by your doctor. If you experience pain or vision problems, schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Remember that your eyes are affected by your overall health. Maintain a healthy diet, stay active, and get plenty of rest. If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, do your best to manage it. And don’t be shy about reaching out to a healthcare provider, health-related organizations, or support group to help you stay focused.