Macular Degeneration Now Leading Cause of Blindness
in Rich Nations; Poor Vision Drops
Macular degeneration has become leading cause of
blindness in rich countries as rates of blindness in developed world
improve dramatically in 20 years
26, 2014 – Rates of blindness and impaired eyesight have plummeted over
the past 20 years in the developed world. But the bad news – especially
for senior citizens and women – is that macular degeneration has
replaced cataract as the leading cause of blindness in wealthy
countries, where women were more likely to be blind or to have poor
vision than men in all years studied.
The researchers trawled through the available
evidence from 1980 to 2012 on the prevalence and causes of blindness and
partial sightedness/impaired vision in high income countries - Asia
Pacific; Australasia; North America; and Western Europe - and Central
and Eastern Europe.
They found 243 suitable studies out of a total of
15,000 worldwide that were representative of many populations, according
to a report published online in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
They then used statistical methods to calculate
estimates of the prevalence and most common causes of blindness and
impaired vision/partial sightedness between 1990 and 2010 for all 190
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
What is Macular Degeneration?
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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
Globally, the prevalence of blindness and partial
sightedness/impaired vision also fell during this period - by 37% and
In high income countries, women were more likely to
be blind or to have poor vision than men, throughout the 20 year period.
The most common cause of blindness changed during
this time from cataract (clouding of the lens) to macular degeneration
(degenerative condition affecting central vision) - except in eastern
and central European countries.
But the most common cause of partial
sightedness/impaired vision - uncorrected refractive error (including
long and short sightedness) - remained the same.
"[This] shows that even for the highly developed
countries one of the most effective, cheapest, and safest ways of
improving vision loss by providing adequate spectacles for correcting
refractive errors, is being overlooked," the authors point out.
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, they add.
"Strategies to screen for diabetic retinopathy and
provide timely treatment access are critical to prevent this condition
from having a greater impact on blindness prevalence in the future,"