Visual impairment is defined as 20/40 vision or worse, when wearing corrective lenses. Last year, 3.2 million Americans were diagnosed as visually impaired, but that number is supposed to double to over 8 million Americans by 2050. According to census data and studies funded by the National Eye Institute, another 16.4 million Americans are expected to have vision problems due to refractive errors by 2050 (nearsightedness or farsightedness).
Rohit Varma, M.D., director of the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute, Los Angeles, and a research team is analyzing data about visual impairment today compared to predicted visual impairment in the coming years. The study was published on May 19th in JAMA Ophthalmology. The team estimated that 1 million Americans were legally blind (20/200 vision or worse) in 2015, and 8.2 million had vision problems because of uncorrected refractive errors.
Varma and his team suspect legal blindness in America will increase by 21 percent each decade to 2 million by 2050. The age group that will be most affected by visual impairment and blindness will be 80 years of age and older. This is due to the fact that advanced age is a primary risk factor for eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Race and gender both play a role in the risk for visual impairment. Non-Hispanic white women represent the largest proportion of people who will be affected by visual impairment and blindness. By 2050, 2.15 million non-Hispanic white women may be visually impaired and 610,000 will be bind. African Americans are the second highest proportion of visually impaired individuals, but Hispanics will step into second position by around 2040. Because Hispanics have higher rates of diabetes, they are at increased risk for diabetic eye disease, which can cause permanent vision loss.
African Americans account for the second highest proportion of blindness, due in part to African Americans’ high risk for developing glaucoma. This disease is often not accompanied by pain or symptoms, so it is very difficult to diagnose without regular comprehensive eye exams.
The best way to prevent visual impairment is to schedule comprehensive eye exams with your eye care specialist at regular intervals. Many eye diseases do not have any symptoms in the early stages, so neglecting your eye exams could put your vision at risk. Stay current with your eye exams and preserve your eyesight. It will be the best investment you ever make (Source: National Eye Institute).