A new National Institute of Health (NIH) survey just announced that more white women in the US will experience blindness in the next few decades. The survey found that these women are the largest group at risk and expected to suffer from vision impairment problems by the year 2050. Moreover, the number of non-Hispanic white females affected by visual impairment and blindness will double in the next three decades. The NIH also announced that the blindness rate in the entire US population is expected to double by 2050. The findings of the analysis were published in JAMA Ophthalmology on 19th May, 2016.

New estimates based on census data collected from the National Eye Institute (NEI) claim that more than 8 million people will develop visual impairment or blindness in the next 35 years. At the same time, having difficulty in seeing as a result of correctable refractive errors i.e., vision problems which can be corrected, is expected to arise in 16.4 million Americans. Surprisingly, the survey estimated about 2.15 million non-Hispanic white women will have vision problems, while 610,000 white women will be completely blind by 2050.

Rohit Varma, MD, Director of the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute in Los Angeles, was the lead researcher of the analysis.

“Based on these data, there is a need for increased screening and interventions across all population, and especially among non-Hispanic white women,” said Varma.

Although vision errors including myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) can be fixed using glasses, contacts or surgery, it should be noted that such procedures are pretty costly and not always feasible for low income families.

Additionally, the survey reported that since 2015 more than 3.2 million Americans developed visual impairment at the level of 20/40 vision or worse, meaning that such individuals would have to stand at a distance of 20 feet of an object for them to clearly see it, while a normal person could have seen it from 40 feet.

Moving on, it was also concluded that 8.2 million Americans are suffering from difficulties in vision from uncorrected refractive error. In 2015, about 1 million Americans were legally blind i.e., they had 20/200 vision or worse. A person with a 20/20 vision would have to stand 20 feet or closer to an object to clearly see it, while a normal person would be able to see the object from 200 feet away.

The team predicted the number of people with legal blindness will increase every 10 years by 21% to reach a number of 2 million individuals by 2050. Likewise, corrected visual impairments will increase by 25% every decade and in 2050, more than 6.95 million people would suffer from it. The rate of corrective vision problems is expected to increase in people above the age of 80 years, since old age is a major risk factor for age-related diseases.

The team examined data collected from six major studies that focused on nationwide visual impairment and blindness and their prevalence. The data included information from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study, Beaver Dam Eye Study, the Baltimore Eye Survey and Salisbury Eye Evaluation Study, Proyecto VER and the Chinese American Eye Study. Varma’s study was funded by different NEI grants in part, namely ‘U10EY017337-05’ and ‘K23EY022949-01’.

“These findings are an important forewarning of the magnitude of vision loss to come. They suggest that there is a huge opportunity for screening efforts to identify people with correctable vision problems and early signs of eye diseases. Early detection and intervention — possibly as simple as prescribing corrective lenses — could go a long way toward preventing a significant proportion of avoidable vision loss,” said NEI Director Paul A Sieving, MD, PhD.

The survey also revealed blindness in Hispanics is expected to rise in the next few years and it may also be due to the overall increase of the Hispanic population in the US. By 2040, the Hispanic population will hold the number two spot in the criteria for the highest frequency of visual impairment among different population groups in the US. Another reason for the rise of blindness in Hispanics could be attributed to the increasing number of older individuals, since they have an increased rate of diabetes which in turn can lead to diabetic eye disease.

Right now the second position is held by African Americans, as they have the second highest percentage of individuals suffering from visual impairment, and will continue to do so for some years.

“African Americans are at disproportionately high risk for developing glaucoma, a potentially blinding eye disease that typically causes the loss of peripheral, but not central vision, so people tend to not realize that they are losing their vision and do not seek treatment,” said Varma.

Since the month of May is Healthy Vision Month, the NEI has released a special toolkit to help people take steps which can make their vision last a lifetime. Basically, the guide recommends following a healthy lifestyle, ensuring the use of eye protecting gear, along with routine eye exams for individuals with a history of eye diseases in their family.