Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Eye Condition Striking Young Chinese Americans

(HealthDay News) -- Young and middle-aged Americans of Chinese descent are prone to a new eye syndrome that ophthalmologists are often mistaking for blinding glaucoma, researchers warn.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, tracked 16 people for seven years and observed more than 100 others. They concluded that there's a new eye syndrome occurring in the young Chinese population in the United States.

Fortunately, this new syndrome may be less likely than typical glaucoma to cause severe vision loss or blindness, the authors said. They published their findings in the March issue of Ophthalmology.

Glaucoma results from damage to the optic nerve, which transmits information from the eye to the brain. It's believed that the optic nerve damage is caused by high eye pressure. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, affecting one in 200 people over the age of 50.

The Stanford researchers said that many young Chinese patients diagnosed with glaucoma have normal eye pressure. They suspect that the optic nerve damage is actually caused by stretching of the eye associated with nearsightedness, which rarely gets worse after age 30, meaning optic nerve damage may slow or stabilize.

This means that doctors need to carefully assess young Chinese patients with suspected glaucoma and not rush into aggressive treatment, such as surgery.

"If they don't appear to be progressing toward blindness right now, they shouldn't be treated as if they have a blinding condition, especially since surgery is associated with significant risks," Dr. Kuldev Singh, professor of ophthalmology, said in a prepared statement.

He noted that other researchers have reported an increase in nearsightedness among people of Chinese ancestry.

Singh and his colleagues are currently surveying young people of Chinese ancestry at Stanford. Their preliminary findings show a high prevalence of optic nerve damage.

"The next step is to learn more about the natural history and genetics of this condition and see whether there are subsets of the population more prone to it," Singh said.

More information
The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about glaucoma.

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