|NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
||National Eye Institute|
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE
Wednesday, March 20, 2002
12:45 p.m. EST
NEI Information Office
|Photos, full report, and other materials available in downloadable, camera-ready format on the NEI website at http://www.nei.nih.gov/eyedata.|
Report Released On One of the Most-Feared Disabilities
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, M.D., M.P.H., 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."
Major Eye Diseases
The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness in the U.S. are diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, cataract, and glaucoma.
Diabetic Retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes. Retinal blood vessels can break down, leak, or become blocked, affecting and impairing vision over time. Nearly half of all people with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime, and risk increases with age and duration of diabetes. People with diabetes are encouraged to seek annual dilated eye exams. Currently, laser surgery and a procedure called a vitrectomy are highly effective in treating diabetic retinopathy. Research into pharmaceutical treatment options is continuing.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration is a condition that primarily affects the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision. There are two forms of AMD dry AMD and wet AMD. Because AMD often damages central vision, it is the most common cause of legal blindness and vision impairment in older Americans (AMD rarely affects those under the age of 60). While there is no generally accepted treatment for dry AMD, laser therapies to destroy leaking blood vessels can help reduce the risk of advancing vision loss in many cases of wet AMD. Research sponsored by the National Eye Institute has recently shown that a combination of zinc, vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene may also reduce the risk of advanced AMD by 25 percent.
Cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens. Most cataracts appear with advancing age. Scientists are unsure what causes cataract. The most important factor is increasing age, but there are additional factors, including smoking, diabetes, and excessive exposure to sunlight. Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world, and affects nearly 20.5 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 80, more than half of all Americans develop cataract. Cataract is sometimes considered a conquered disease because surgical treatment that can eliminate vision loss due to the disease is widely available. However, cataract still accounts for a significant amount of vision impairment in the U.S., particularly among people age 65 and over who may have difficulty accessing appropriate eye care.
Glaucoma is a disease that causes gradual damage to the optic nerve, that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. The loss of vision is not experienced until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred. For this reason, as many as half of all people with glaucoma are unaware of their disease. About 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another two million do not know they have it. Most cases of glaucoma can be controlled and vision loss slowed or halted by timely diagnosis and treatment. However, any vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored.
The National Eye Institute (NEI) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is the Federal government's lead agency for vision research. NEI-supported research leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment and blindness. The NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Founded in 1908, Prevent Blindness America is the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight. Focused on promoting a continuum of vision care, Prevent Blindness America touches the lives of millions of people each year through public and professional education, community and patient service programs and research.