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Americans are facing a sharp increase in eye diseases as they pass 40, two reports conclude. The numbers suggest a big hike during the last decade in those who experienced vision impairment and blindness. I am one of them.
A preliminary update to the "Vision Problems in the U.S." report released on June 20 by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute included some sobering statistics. The number of Americans at least 40 who have vision impairment and blindness jumped 23 percent since 2000. Scientists from Johns Hopkins University conducted the research.
A second report shows the cost impact of the increase. A preliminary update to the 2007 Prevent Blindness America "Economic Impact of Vision Problems" report cites a $1 billion hike in the cost of additional medical care, informal care, and quality of life linked to the visual problems.
The "Vision Problems in the U.S." report presented sobering increases in the four most common eye diseases. More than 2 million individuals at least 50 years old have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a 25 percent increase since 2000.
Around 24.4 million 40 and older have cataracts, a jump of 19 percent. Some 2.7 million in the same age group suffer from open-angle glaucoma, a 22 percent increase. At least 7.8 million who are 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy, an 89 percent hike.
Although each driver's license chronicled five more birthdays, like most people, I considered cataracts and AMD old people's diseases. And though many people retire at my age, I never thought of myself as old.
When my eye doctor diagnosed my first cataract at age 39, we both chalked it up to taking steroids long-term for a medical condition and being extremely nearsighted. However, a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration four years ago was a sobering experience. Following it was a warning that while cataracts in both eyes were nearly ready for removal, some of the medications I take make it risky to do so.
AMD is actually common among those at least 50, according to the National Eye Institute. It has two forms, dry and wet, and gradually destroys the portion of the eye that provides sharp central vision. Patients maintain peripheral vision but experience blurring in the center of the visual field.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. The only effective treatment is surgery to remove the lens and replace it with a plastic one when clouding begins to significantly affect activities, says the Mayo Clinic.
Scientists were not really surprised by the sharp increases they discovered in eye diseases linked to age. Prevent Blindness America CEO Hugh R. Parry cited the aging baby boomer population and an epidemic of diabetes as possible causes. Researchers hope the data will provide a wake-up call for prevention, funding, and research.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She has a special interest in diseases and conditions that affect the quality of life.