A recent report from Prevent Blindness America (PBA), a U.S.-based organization dedicated to decreasing preventable eye disease, showed that there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of eye disease in the United States. Citing data for the four major eye diseases, this report stated that there has been a 26 percent increase in the number of people over the age of 50 with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) since the year 2000; a 19 percent increase in the number of people over 40 with cataracts; a 22 percent increase in the number of people over 40 with open-angle glaucoma; and a dramatic 89 percent in the number of people over 40 with diabetic retinopathy. The main reasons for these increases are the aging of the American population and the staggering increase in the number of people with diabetes in the U.S.
Now, is this increase in eye disease prevalence happening in Canada as well? While we don’t have hard data to support this, the answer is most certainly “yes.” The Canadian population is aging fast. The number of people over the age of 65 is projected to double over the next 25 years. All of the four major eye diseases are age-related, so that the expectation is that the number of people with these diseases will increase at a similar rate as the aging of the population. On the diabetes front, the 2011 publication, Diabetes in Canada, by the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that diabetes had increased by 70 percent over the 10 year period 1998/99 to 2008/09. This increase is not that far removed from that in the U.S.
This data tells us just how important it is to take preventive measures to protect our eye health. Quitting smoking, eating a healthly diet and exercising regularly, as well as protecting our eyes from the sun are all things that can help us preserve our vision for as long as possible. Controlling your blood sugar, if you have diabetes, is also very important if you want to limit damage to your eyes as a result of your diabetes.
The good news is that the impact of these four major eye diseases has been decreasing somewhat over the past 10 years. There are new treatments for wet AMD (anti-VEGF medications); cataract surgery continues to improve, providing ever better outcomes for people with cataracts; glaucoma medications, and surgical and laser treatments are showing ever better control of glaucoma; and it has now been shown that anti-VEGF treatments are effective in minimizing some sight loss associated with diabetic retinopathy.
So, while we can’t do much about aging, we can make sure that we preserve our eye health by taking some of the preventive measures I have mentioned, and, above all else, making sure we get regular eye examinations from an eye doctor. The earlier an eye disease is diagnosed, the greater the chance of controlling the associated vision loss with treatment.