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Many With Vision Impairment Simply Need Glasses

Breaking News - May 2006 - Week 2

(May 10, 2006)

Healthcare in  the News

-- An estimated 14 million Americans - slightly more than 6 percent of the population - over age 12 are visually impaired, according to a new study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Picture of eye chart and pair of eyeglasses

Most of these people - about 11 million - could have vision that is nearly normal if they wore corrective lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses.

About 3 million have medical problems, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. The vision problems related to these conditions usually cannot be corrected with glasses or contacts.

"Periodic eye care is important. For the majority of people with visual impairment, spectacles or contacts could alleviate the problem. For a smaller fraction of people, there are medical eye issues that should be identified so they can be treated," says Dr. Paul Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute (NEI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Vision problems can seriously affect quality of life, according to the study. People with vision problems are more likely to fall, have a higher risk of fractures and other injuries, and they may be more likely to limit or stop driving.

According to the study, the last time the federal government assessed the prevalence of visual impairment among Americans was in the mid-1970s. Since that time, the US population has gotten older and more diverse.

Rates of nearsightedness - called myopia - are also increasing worldwide. Therefore, vision checkswere once again included in the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), beginning in 1999.

Study Measured Distance Vision

The new study measured the vision of 13,265 people who visited a mobile examination center between 1999 and 2002.

Those who had distancevision of 20/50 or worse were defined as visually impaired. That means a person is nearsighted and cannot clearly see objects at a distance. When vision reaches 20/50, many states no longer allow a person to continue driving without corrective lenses, according to Dr. Sieving.

This study did not include an assessment of people who have trouble seeing nearby objects and need reading glasses as they age.

Nearly 1,200 people in the study had visual impairment. More than 83 percent of those people couldhave nearly normal vision by using glasses or contact lenses, the researchers found.

The rest of the study participants (17 percent)had more serious problems, such as glaucoma or cataracts, that caused their vision difficulties, according to Dr. Sieving.

Extrapolating that data to the US population as a whole, the researchers reported that about 14 million people have uncorrected visual impairment and about 11 million of them could see significantly better with corrective lenses.

"I was surprised at the number of people who weren't corrected better than 20/50," Dr. Sieving says.

Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities were more likely than whites or blacks to have uncorrected visual impairment.

The rates of visual impairment were higher for people who were poor, did not have private health insurance, had diabetes, and had fewer years of education, the study found.

Dr. Robert Cykiert, an ophthalmologist at New York University Medical Center, says, "The sad thing is a huge part of the population has visual problems simply because they're not wearing glasses."

In some cases, he says, people do not realize they have a problem with their vision.In other cases, access to health care is a problem, as is paying for glasses or contacts.

Routine Eye Exams Important

Both Drs. Sieving and Cykiert recommend routine eye care. Along with correcting vision problems, regular eye exams can also uncover potentially sight-stealing diseases, such as glaucoma, that can be treated or managed when caught early enough, Dr. Cykiert says.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) suggests the following eye examination guidelines:

  • ages 0 to 2 years: screening during regular pediatric appointments
  • ages 3 to 5 years: screening every one to two years during regular primary care appointments
  • ages 6 to 19 years: schedule examinations as needed
  • ages 20 to 29 years: one examination during this time
  • ages 30 to 39 years: two examinations during this time
  • ages 40 to 65: examinations every two to four years
  • ages 65 and over: examination every one to two years

According to theAAO, persons with risk factors such as a history of eye injury, diabetes, or a family history of eye problems should check with their physician to see how often examinations should be scheduled. African Americans over the age of 40 should also check with their physicians for an examination schedule.

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

May is Healthy Vision Month

Each day, more than 2,000 US workers receive medical treatment because of work-related eye injuries, with more than 800,000 eye injuries occurring annually.

"To help promote eye health and safety at work, Healthy Vision Month 2006 will focus on what employers and employees can do to reduce the number of job-related eye injuries," announces Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of vision research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Healthy Vision Month is an annual observance coordinated by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the NIH each May to encourage Americans to make vision a health priority.

"Workplace injury is a leading cause of eye trauma, vision loss, disability, and blindness. The resulting visual impairment can interfere with a person's ability to perform his or her job and carry out everyday activities," Dr. Sieving explains.

Dr. John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says, "Simple improvements in workplace conditions and the use of the proper safety eyewear can greatly reduce the number of eye injuries. Identifying and removing or minimizing eye safety hazards is a critical part of a good eye safety program. Ensuring that workers have the appropriate eye protection for the job and that it is used are also key components."

Many eye injuries occur because workers are not wearing the right eye protection, it does not fit, or they are not wearing any protection at all.

Flying fragments of metal, wood, concrete, and other building materials, along with windblown dust and debris, splashes from chemicals and molten metal, hot sparks, optical radiation, and even the everyday nail, are common workplace eye hazards.

"Eye safety should receive continuing attention in workplace education programs," Dr. Sieving notes.

"Procedures for handling eye injuries should be established and reinforced. Also, poor vision can affect work performance and safety," Dr. Sieving continues. "Workers should have a comprehensive eye examination on a regular basis to help maintain healthy vision, a first step in avoiding injuries on the job."

NEI, NIOSH, and the National Safety Council are cosponsoring Healthy Vision Month this year, and are working in collaboration with the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, Inc.

Other organizations and businesses are also joining forces to make eye safety at work everyone's business.

Always consult your physician for more information.

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