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The Chinese American Eye Study (CHES) is the largest-ever ophthalmic study in Americans of Chinese ancestry.

More than 4,500 participants were drawn from Monterey Park, a Los Angeles–area community with a sizable and stable population of Chinese Americans. A large majority of them were first-generation immigrants, primarily from mainland China.

Each eligible participant completed a detailed interview and eye examination as the CHES team set out to determine the prevalence and causes of eye diseases in one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations.

Key study findings include:

  • Higher percentage (85 percent) of treatable neovascular age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), almost the opposite of what has been found in whites or other ethnic groups
  • Three times higher prevalence of visual impairment among Chinese Americans with type 2 diabetes compared to those without diabetes.

Other findings include:

  • AMD:   Chinese Americans in the study had an overall age-adjusted prevalence of 8.1 percent. Estimates of the disease prevalence in Chinese individuals living in urban and rural China and urban Taiwan range from 3.0 percent to 9.2 percent, suggesting that environmental or behavioral factors could be influencing AMD risk here.
  • Aging:   The risk of AMD rose with age. In all age groups, however, men had a higher rate of AMD than women. AMD prevalence ranged from 5.8 percent in subjects 50-to-59 years old to 17.6 percent in those 80 years of age or older.
  • Diabetes and retinopathy:   Slightly more than 16 percent of participants had type 2 diabetes; 35.8 percent of this subgroup had diabetic retinopathy (DR). This compares to a 46 percent rate among Chinese with type 2 diabetes in rural China, and 48 percent in Latinos living in Los Angeles.
  • Visual Impairment:   Participants with diabetes were three times more likely (6.7 percent vs. 2.2percent) than those without diabetes to have significant visual impairment. The causes of the impaired vision were cataracts and macular edema.

CHES sounds a clarion call for all eye care providers to be aware of the higher relative prevalence of wet AMD compared with dry AMD in those of Chinese ancestry and to provide the available treatments.

While diabetic eye disease is not as prevalent among Chinese Americans as seen in the Latino community, it remains critical to address the health of Chinese Americans with diabetes to prevent diabetic retinopathy and the onset of significant visual impairment.