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Disparities in Eye Care Could Cost Some Their Sight

Low-income, less educated don't have same access to preventive treatments, researchers report

THURSDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Americans with low incomes and education levels are less likely to get eye care, a new study finds.

Researchers examined data from nearly 3,600 people, aged 40 and older, who took part in the 2002 U.S. National Health Interview Survey, and 3,100 who took part in the 2008 survey. In 2002, people with low incomes were much less likely than those with higher incomes to say that they'd visited an eye doctor, about 63 percent versus 80 percent.

The investigators found that people with less than a high school degree were less likely than those with at least a college education to say that they'd visited an eye doctor (nearly 63 percent versus 81 percent, respectively) or to have had a dilated eye examination (just under 65 percent versus just over 81 percent, respectively).

"There is a need for increased awareness about the relationship between social circumstances and [age-related eye disease], and for more research to determine how income and educational inequalities affect health-seeking behavior at the community and individual level over time," Dr. Xinzhi Zhang, of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and colleagues wrote in the report.

The study was published online July 18 in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

In recent years, there have been many medical advances in the treatment and prevention of age-related eye diseases, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. And, in the case of cataracts, vision loss many even be reversible. However, to benefit from these interventions people must have access to eye care, the researchers noted in a journal news release.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has information about financial aid for eye care.

SOURCE: JAMA Ophthalmology, news release, July 18, 2013

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