Seeing a Doctor to See Better

Visual impairment could be fixed with a trip to the doctor

(RxWiki News) Having trouble seeing, or visual impairment, is a very common problem in the United States. Among older people, visual impairment is even more common. Fortunately, for many, the solution may be very simple: go and see a doctor.

A recent study found that over half of the people in the US aged 40 and older who have trouble seeing could likely fix their vision problem with a prescription for glasses or by having refractive surgery. 

"Have your eyes checked regularly by your doctor."

This study was led by Chiu-Fang Chou in the Division of Diabetes Translation at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Promotion in Atlanta, Georgia.

The research team used data from the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to: 1) Determine the percentage of people with visual impairment in the US, and 2) Determine the connection between visual impairment that was due to refractive errors and visual impairment that was due to age-related eye diseases. Refractive errors occur when the shape of your eye makes it hard to focus on objects.

The study population included 5,222 adults who were aged 40 years or older, and who were not legally blind. These individuals completed eye tests to test for visual impairment and for age-related eye diseases including age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

Age-related macular degeneration typically occurs in people over 50, and happens when the part of the eye that is used for central vision begins to break down. Diabetic retinopathy is a disease that occurs in people with diabetes in which the retina gets damaged. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve is what connects the retina to the brain.

Overall, researchers found that 7.5 percent of the study population had visual impairment. Among the people who were visually impaired, close to 75 percent had visual impairment that was caused by refractive errors. These errors can usually be fixed with a prescription for glasses or refractive surgery.

For the people who had visual impairment that could not be fixed with a prescription or refractive surgery (2.0 percent of the study population), half of them had at least one of the three age-related eye diseases. Of these three eye diseases, age-related macular degeneration was the one most closely associated with visual impairment.

The research team also took into account several factors when looking at their results, including: age, gender, race/ethnicity, level of education, insurance coverage, smoking status, blood pressure and history of heart disease.

They found that visual impairment was more common in older individuals, in non-Hispanic blacks, Mexican Americans and in people without a high school diploma or health insurance.

One limitation of this study is that it only measured visual impairment that was due to refractive errors or an age-related eye disease. There are other causes of visual impairment, so the prevalence of visual impairment may have been underestimated.

The study authors concluded that eye screenings, especially among the elderly, could identify people who are at risk for becoming visually impaired and lead to treatment before it becomes a serious problem.

This study was published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

This study was funded in part by the CDC National Center for Health and Statistics, the CDC Division of Diabetes Translation and the National Eye Institute, NIH, Intramural Research Award.

The study's authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 17, 2013