Eyes wide open: report tackles blindness

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Related tags: Ophthalmology

More Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from
age-related eye disease, reveals a new report from the US. Over one
million Americans aged 40 and over are currently blind and an
additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are
expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer
generation ages, suggests the report.

More Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from age-related eye disease, reveals a new report from the US. Over one million Americans aged 40 and over are currently blind and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. These numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages, suggests the report.

The "Vision Problems in the U.S." report on the prevalence of sight-threatening eye disease in Americans was released on Friday by the National Eye Institute, in partnership with Prevent Blindness America.

"Blindness and visual impairment from most eye diseases and disorders can be reduced with early detection and treatment,"​ said US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson. "That's why eye health education programs that encourage those at high risk for eye disease to have regular dilated eye exams are essential in preventing vision loss. Healthy vision is a shared responsibility among the government, health care providers, community leaders, and the public,"​ he continued.

The director of the National Eye Institute, Paul A. Sieving, called for an increase in public attention to eye disease. "About one in eight Americans is 65 or older,"​ Dr. Sieving said. "When you add declining mortality rates and population shifts, such as the 'baby boomers,' the number of older people will grow dramatically in the years ahead. Blindness and vision impairment represent not only a significant burden to those affected by sight loss, but also to the national economy as well."

The new report addresses the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness in the US, to include: diabetic retinopathy, believed to be a leading cause of blindness in the industrialised world in people between the ages of 25 and 74; age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness and vision impairment in Americans aged 60 and older; cataract, the leading cause of blindness in the world. Cataract affects nearly 20.5 million Americans age 65 and older and finally glaucoma, a chronic disease that often requires life-long treatment to control. About 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another two million do not know they have it.

The "Vision Problems in the U.S." study was the result of a 2001 consensus meeting, convened by the National Eye Institute and involving many of the world's leading ophthalmic epidemiologists. Data were obtained from a systematic review of the major epidemiological studies with the cooperation of their authors. National data are broken down into state-by-state statistics.

"These are the most comprehensive data available on the prevalence of eye disease in America,"​ said David S. Friedman, principal investigator of the study, and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University. "We hope this information will serve as a guide to our communities and our nation's leaders. We must comprehend the scope of eye problems in our country so that adequate resources can be devoted to research, treatment, and prevention."

A copy of the full report is available in downloadable format at www.preventblindness.org and www.nei.nih.gov/eyedata.

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