According to the World Report on Vision released in October 2019, globally more than 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment. Of those at least 1 billion people have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be treated.
In Australia, the 2016 National Eye Health Survey showed that over 453,000 Australians were living with low vision or blindness in 2016.
The prevalence of vision loss is predicted to increase with the estimated number of Australians aged over 50 living with vision loss is expected to nearly double from around 532,000 people in 2016 to more than one million people in 2050.
In Australia, most blindness and vision loss is caused by five common eye conditions (listed alphabetically):
- age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
- diabetic retinopathy
- uncorrected or under corrected refractive error.
Some of the most common conditions are related to age-related eye changes and extended exposure to UV radiation which means that everyone over the age of 40 is at higher risk of vision loss.
People who also have other risk factors are at particular risk. These include:
- People with a family history of sight threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma.
- Smokers, with the risk of conditions like cataract and age-related macular disease significantly higher in this cohort.
- People living with diabetes, particularly those who have had the condition for long periods and/or have poorly controlled blood glucose.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, who experience vision loss at some three times the rate of other Australians.
- People in the community who experience additional barriers to accessing and/or paying for health services such as eye testing, glasses and treatment as this means that conditions that could have been prevented or managed early may not be seen until they are advanced, sometimes with irreversible vision loss.
Eye health is often taken for granted as people believe they can see well and therefore must have healthy eyes. However, many eye problems, including the above listed conditions, are often asymptomatic in their early stages with vision loss progressing before a person notices their vision impairment, often too late to save the sight already lost.
The good news is that in Australia, most blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable if conditions are detected early.
Regular eye tests are the best way to detect any developing problems early and ensure the best chance for treatment.