Blindness Is Disappearing In The Developed World But An Increase In Diabetes May Change That

A blind sprinter. Photo by Ruben Salgado Escudero / Getty Images

Rates of blindness and impaired eyesight have plummeted over the past 20 years in the developed world, a new study has fiund.

Macular degeneration has replaced cataract as the leading cause of blindness in rich countries, reveals an analysis of the available evidence published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The researchers trawled through the available evidence from 1980 to 2012 on the prevalence and causes of blindness and impaired vision in high income countries in Asia Pacific, Australasia, North America and Europe.

They found 243 suitable studies out of a total of 15,000 worldwide.

They then used statistical methods to calculate estimates of the prevalence and most common causes of blindness between 1990 and 2010 for 190 countries.

Over the 20 year period, the prevalence of blindness halved in high income countries, falling from 3.314 million people (0.2% of the population) to 2.736 million people (0.1% of the population).

Similarly, the prevalence of partial sightedness/impaired vision dropped by 38%, falling from 25.362 million (1.6% of the population) to 22.176 million people (1% of the population).

The most common cause of blindness changed during this time from cataract (clouding of the lens) to macular degeneration (degenerative condition affecting central vision).

The authors say that even for the highly developed countries one of the most effective, cheapest, and safest ways of improving vision loss is by providing adequate spectacles for correcting refractive errors.

And they warn that the surge in the prevalence of diabetes will have an enormous impact on eye health, with upwards of 100 million people expected to develop diabetic retinopathy, around a third of whom risk losing their sight.

Many people with diabetes will also be at risk of glaucoma and cataract.

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