Reports From the More Field: Americans facing blindness over next 30 years

As the baby boomers age, the number of Americans who are visually impaired is expected to double over the next 30 years, according to the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America.

"Blindness and visual impairment from most eye diseases and disorders can be reduced with early detection and treatment," says Tommy Thompson, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The leading causes of vision impairment and blindness are:

  • Diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes affecting more than 5.3 million people. An annual eye exam is recommended for diabetics.
  • Age-related macular degeneration, which affects 1.6 million people over age 60. This is the most common cause of legal blindness and rarely affects those younger than 60.
  • Cataracts, or clouding of the eye’s lens, affects 20.5 million Americans. Surgical treatment can eliminate vision loss.
  • Glaucoma, a disease that causes gradual damage to the optic nerve and affects about 4.2 million people, only half of whom have been diagnosed. Most cases can be controlled by timely diagnosis and treatment.

"Blindness and vision impairment represent not only a significant burden to those affected by sight loss but to the national economy as well, says Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, director of the National Eye Institute. He called for increased screening and early treatment of diseases.

A copy of the report on blindness and eye disease is available at www.preventblindness.org.