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Study Shows Macular Degeneration Gaining in Developed World

Martha Snyder Taggart, BrightFocus Editor, Science Communications
  • Science News
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Source: British Journal of Ophthalmology

In the last two decades (from 1990-2010) blindness and visual impairment decreased in most the developed world’s highest-income countries, including the United States, Western Europe, Australia and Japan, according to a meta-analysis published online March 24 (Bourne RRA et al, Brit J Ophthalmol).

However, progress towards eliminating the causes of blindness was far from uniform, and the authors report that macular degeneration has replaced cataracts as the leading cause of blindness in most of the richest nations.

These researchers employed different definitions and statistics around vision disease than those used at BrightFocus Foundation, but their basic conclusion is the same. Macular degeneration is a growing threat and resources must be devoted to finding the cause, treatments, and a cure.

Reasons Why Vision Diseases Are Shifting

They point to increase in cataract surgery, increased life expectancy (age being the biggest risk factor for age-related macular degeneration), and treatment challenges as explanations for why macular degeneration has emerged as the top vision threat in the United States and other developed nations. BrightFocus has long emphasized it over cataracts as a leading irreversible cause of blindness.

Since the meta-analysis was based on data from a literature search, its results must be interpreted with caution. Among the findings:

  • In highly developed countries, the prevalence of blindness has been reduced by 50% and numbers of blind people have been reduced by 17.4%.
  • Moderate and severe vision impairment (MSVI ) has dropped by 38%, and the number of people with MSVI decreased by 12.6%.
  • Macular degeneration and uncorrected refractive error are now the most frequent causes of blindness in all high-income countries except for Eastern/Central Europe, where cataract remained the leading cause.
  • Women were generally more affected than men, possibly reflecting differences in their use or access to services and their increased life expectancy.
  • In some developed countries, such as Denmark and Israel, the introduction of anti-VEGF therapy has led to a decline in visual impairment due to age-related macular degeneration or myopic maculopathy.

The authors state that the results of their meta-analysis point to the need, in developed countries, for public health resource allocation, training of eye-care providers, public awareness about vision loss, and access to treatment for macular degeneration, including anti-VEGF therapy.

View the PubMed abstract of this research.