Eyes Dimmed by Diabetes?

Nonrefractive visual impairment rates could be driven by rising diabetes rates

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Some eye problems can be corrected with glasses while others cannot. According to a recent study, vision problems that cannot be fixed by glasses may be on the rise and could be linked to growing diabetes rates.

One of the major complications of diabetes is eye damage. According to the study's authors, increasing diabetes rates may play a role in the rise of visual impairment. Researchers found that rates of non-refractive visual impairment (vision problems not due to need for glasses) have grown in recent years.

About 11 million people have vision problems due to refractive error, which means the problems may be corrected by glasses.

"Control your diabetes to prevent permanent eye damage."

The research was conducted by Fang Ko, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and colleagues. According to background information in the article, an estimated 14 million Americans 12 years of age and older are visually impaired. Over the past decade, rates of non-refractive visual impairment increased by 21 percent. Among whites between 20 and 39 years of age, rates increased by 40 percent.

In the United States, non-refractive visual impairment is most commonly caused by macular degeneration (eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of the field of vision), cataract (clouding of the lens of the eye), glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) and diabetic retinopathy (damage to the eye's retina caused by diabetes), among other disorders.

Dr. Ko and colleagues set out to study the rates of non-refractive visual impairment and which factors might put people at risk of this vision problem.

From 1999 to 2002, the overall rate of non-refractive visual impairment was 1.4 percent. By 2005 to 2008, that rate rose to 1.7 percent - a relative increase of 21 percent.

In that same time period, the rate of non-refractive visual impairment among non-Hispanic whites aged 20 to 39 years rose from 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent - a relative increase of 40 percent.

The researchers also found that a variety of factors increased the risk of non-refractive visual impairment, including older age, poverty, lower levels of education and diabetes diagnosed at least 10 years ago.

More specifically, results showed:

  • older age was associated with 1.07 times increased odds of non-refractive visual impairment
  • poverty was associated with 2.18 times increased odds of non-refractive visual impairment
  • lack of insurance was associated with 1.85 times increased odds of non-refractive visual impairment
  • diabetes diagnosed at least 10 years ago was associated with 2.23 times increased odds of non-refractive visual impairment

Diabetes rates have also increased over the past couple decades, from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 6.5 percent in 1998, 7.9 percent in 2001 and 10.7 percent in 2007. By 2010, that number grew to 11.3 percent.

If both visual impairment and diabetes rates continue to grow, it could lead to higher rates of disability in the US, including greater numbers of patients with irreversible eye damage caused by diabetes, the authors said.

These findings may offer guidance to doctors and policy makers trying to figure out how best to deal out limited resources, they said.

The authors concluded that researchers should continue to follow rates of visual disability and diabetes. In addition, researchers should continue to study the causes, prevention and treatment of these health problems.

The study included 9,471 participants examined during 1999 to 2002 and 10,480 participants examined during 2005 to 2008. All participants were 20 years of age or older. The study was published December 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013