Asians may be just as likely to develop age-related macular degeneration as whites, according to a study in the May issue of Ophthalmology. Previous research and clinical evidence indicated that Asians are at a relatively low risk for AMD when compared to whites.

Researchers analyzed nine studies of AMD patients from four Asian populations (Japanese, Chinese, South Korean and Singaporean) to determine age- and gender-based disease prevalence. When compared to similar data from white patients, the researchers noted that 6.8% of Asians aged 40 to 79 years had early AMD and 0.56% had advanced AMD. By comparison, 8.8% of whites aged 40 to 79 years had early AMD and 0.59% had advanced AMD.

The researchers concluded that among all patients with advanced AMD, Asian men were more likely to develop significant neovascularization than white men. Consequently, the researchers speculated that Asian men might be more susceptible to polypoidal choroidal vasculopathy (PCV) than white men. They are uncertain, however, whether PCV is a specific subtype of AMD or an entirely separate condition.

“Future studies should evaluate whether there are ‘Asian forms’ of AMD and discern other racial/ethnic differences in Asian susceptibility,” said lead author Tien Yi Wong, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., director of the Singapore Eye Research Institute. “Our meta-analysis could not adjust for risk factors like smoking—common among many Asian men—nor did this study include all relevant Asian racial/ethnic groups.”

“It is interesting that it now seems that other ethnic groups, such as Asians and Latinos, are also at risk for AMD, similar to what we have known about white patients for years,” says Steven Ferrucci, O.D., chief of optometry and residency director at the Sepulveda VA Ambulatory Care Center & Nursing Home in California. “I believe it is because all cultures are starting to become more ‘Westernized’ with poor diets and obesity, which are known to be significant risk factors. Bottom line—as any ethnic population gets older, all older people are at risk for AMD until proven otherwise.”

Kawasaki R, Yasuda M, Song SJ, et al. The prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in Asians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ophthalmology. 2010 May;117(5):921-7.