Estimates of Vision Loss Based on Self-Report Data

These estimates are based on data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey (Ryskulova et al., 2008).

  • Visual impairment (9.3%; 19.1 million). Individuals were classified as having visual impairment if they answered “yes” when asked the following question: “Do you have any trouble seeing even when wearing glasses or contact lenses?”
  • Blindness (0.3%; 0.7 million). Blindness was defined by answering “yes” to the following question: ““Are you blind or unable to see at all?”

Individuals were asked to identify if they had been told by a doctor or other health professional that they had any of the following present during the past 12 months.

  • Cataracts (8.6%; 17 million)
  • Glaucoma (2.0%; 4 million)
  • Macular Degeneration (1.1%, 2 million)
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (0.7%, 1.3 million)

Macular Degeneration

  • Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment among people aged 65 and older than 65 years (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004a; CDC, 2009).
  • Macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million individuals in the U.S. This number is expected to increase to almost 3 million by 2020 due to the rapid aging of the U.S. population (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004a; CDC, 2009).
  • An estimated 9 million persons in the U.S. have some form of age-related macular degeneration (1.75 million have AMD and 7 million are at substantial risk of developing AMD) (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004a; CDC, 2009). AMD Alliance estimates 13 million Americans have some form of AMD ( AMD 2009).
  • As the U.S. population ages, more elderly persons will become blind from macular degeneration than from glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy combined (National Advisory Eye Council, 1998, p.14).
  • According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, 8.7% of those aged 75 and older reported having macular degeneration as compared to 2.8% aged 65 to 74, 0.9% aged 55 to 64, 0.4% aged 45 to 54, and 0.2% aged 18 to 44 (Ryskulova et al., 2008).
  • Non-Hispanic Whites are at a higher risk for being diagnosed with macular degeneration than African American and Hispanics (Ryskulova et al., 2008).
  • Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among Americans 65 and older (Prevent Blindness America)


  • Approximately 2.3 million Americans (1.9%) age 40 and older, have glaucoma (National Institute of Health, 2008).
  • The National Institute of Health (2008) estimates that an additional 2 million Americans have glaucoma but do not know it.
  • It is projected that the number of Americans with open-angle glaucoma will increase to more than 3 million by 2020 (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004b).
  • In individuals aged 50 and younger, 1 in 200 will be affected by glaucoma (Prevent Blindness America, 2005). Over the age of 80, this increases to 1 in 10 individuals who will be affected by glaucoma (Prevent Blindness America, 2005; Ryskulova et al., 2008).
  • About 163,000, or 2%, of persons age 40 and older in New York State have glaucoma (Prevent Blindness America, 2002).

Ethnic differences in the prevalence of glaucoma are evident as indicated in the following estimates:

  • African-Americans (age 40 and over) are 4 to 5 times more likely than any other ethnic group to have glaucoma (Prevent Blindness America, 2002).
  • Research on a population-based sample found that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among Hispanics (Rodriguez, 2002).


Not: A review of the available data revealed that prevalence estimates of cataract vary considerably among different sources. According the National Advisory Eye Council, "Data on cataract blindness and cataract surgery provide incomplete information about the magnitude of the cataract problem. Large numbers of persons with visual impairments from cataract are not included in these data because their impairment is not sufficient to require surgical correction or to result in blindness" (1993, p. 156), or they may not be aware that they have the condition. Furthermore, as indicated by the Cataract Management Guideline Panel (1993), a problem in determining the prevalence of cataracts is the varying definitions used in the literature (e.g., presence of lens opacities; loss of visual acuity).

Estimates Based on Clinical Data:

  • Cataract affects 20.5 million (1 in 6) Americans age 40 and older. By 80 years of age, more than one half of Americans have cataract (Prevent Blindness America, 2005).
  • Cataract is the leading cause of blindness in the world (47.8%) compared to other eye disorders.
  • By 2020, the number of persons who have cataract is estimated to increase to 30.1 million by 2020 (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004b).
  • There appears to be a higher prevalence of cataracts among females. According to estimates of Americans age 40 and older, a higher proportion of females have cataracts (20%) as compared to males (14%) (The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004b).
  • According to data from the National Health Interview Survey, 53.4% of those aged 75 and older reported having a cataract as compared to 31.0% aged 65 to 74, 9.3% aged 55 to 64, 2.7% aged 45 to 54, and 0.5% aged 18 to 44 (Ryskulova et al., 2008).

Diabetic Retinopathy

  • An estimated 23.6 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. Of those, 5.7 million are undiagnosed (American Diabetes Association, 2008).
  • Currently, 1 in 10 individuals has diabetes. The medical costs associated with diabetes are 2.3 times more for an individual than those without (Boyle, Thompson, Gregg, Barker, & Williamson, 2010).
  • By the year 2050, between 1 in 3 to 1 in 5 adults will have diabetes (Boyle, Thompson, Gregg, Barker, & Williamson, 2010).
  • Between 40% to 45% of all people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy (National Eye Institute, 2009).
  • An estimated 4.1 million Americans age 40 and older have diabetic retinopathy (Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, 2004).
  • Annually, 12,000 to 24,000 people lose their sight from diabetic retinopathy (Prevent Blindness America, 2010).
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of legal blindness among adults 20 to 74 years of age (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2008).
  • Among persons with juvenile diabetes, 25% will have diabetic retinopathy after 5 years; almost 60% after 10 years; and 80% after 15 years (Prevent Blindness America, 1994).
  • When compared to African Americans, Latinos may be at a greater risk of severe diabetic retinopathy or have a poorer prognosis of disease (Chen, Luviano, Chen, Yu, & Sarraf, 2009).
  • The number of diabetes patients who have diabetic retinopathy is projected to increase from 5.5 million in 2005 to 16 million in 2050 (Saaddine et al., 2008).

Macular Holes & Macular Puckers

  • The overall prevalence is approximately 3.3 cases in 1000 in those persons older than 55 years (Theng, Hughes, Atebara, & Drouilhet, 2009).
  • Typically happens when an individual is in their 70s. This happens to women more than men. There are no differences by racial or ethnic group.
  • If a macular hole exists in one eye, there is a 10-15 percent chance that a macular hole will develop in your other eye over your lifetime (NEI, 2009).
  • Having cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and a history of hysterectomy have been found in studies to put an individual at risk for a macular hole, but not directly cause it (NEI, 2009).

AIDs Related Visual Impairment

  • The estimated proportion of persons with AIDS who will develop CMV retinitis ranges from 20% (Jabs, Davis, & Mowyer, 1992) to approximately 40% (Thorne et al., 2007).


  • Retinoblastoma is the most common intraocular malignancy of childhood. There are between 300 and 400 new cases diagnosed annually (Friedman et al., 2000).
  • Approximately 1,680 to 2,240 new cases of choroidal melanoma are diagnosed annually (National Institutes of Health, 2010).

Corneal Disease

  • Diseases and injury to the cornea are the leading cause of visits to physicians for medical eye care in the United States (National Advisory Eye Council, 1998).

Low Birth Weight

  • Blindness occurs mainly among children with birth weights below 1,000 grams (2 lbs, 3 oz) at rates of 5% to 8% (Gergely & Gerinec, 2010; Hack, Klein, & Taylor, 1995).

Retinitis Pigmentosa

  • Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common cause of inherited blindness (National Advisory Eye Council, 1993).
  • Retinitis pigmentosa, for which there is no known cure, affects an estimated100,000 Americans (Foundation Fighting Blindness, 2010).
  • An estimated one out of 80 people carry the recessive gene for RP (National Advisory Eye Council, 1993).

Usher Syndrome

  • In the United States, 4 out of every 100,000 infants will have Usher Syndrome (National Institutes of Health, 2007).
  • Usher Syndrome is responsible for 3 to 6% of all childhood deafness (National Institutes of Health, 2007).
  • Usher Syndrome is responsible for 50% deaf-blindness cases (National Institutes of Health, 2007).

Refractive Errors

  • Myopia (nearsightedness) affects more than 30.5 million Americans age 40 and older (30%) (American Optometric Association, 2006).
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness) affects 5 to 10% of Americans 40 and older (National Eye Institute, 2010).
  • It is estimated that 5% of the childhood population are affected by strabismus and 2% to 3% suffer from amblyopia (Prevent Blindness America, 2005).
  • In the United States, less than 2% of all children beginning school (age 5) are myopic. By the end of grade school (age 11 or 12) more than 15% are myopic. By adulthood, about 25% Americans are myopic, thereby requiring some form of optical correction to see clearly beyond an arm's length (National Advisory Eye Council, 1993, p. 247).
  • Although amblyopia, strabismus, nystagmus, and myopia seldom cause legal blindness they produce substantial visual loss that interferes with learning and working, and the overall quality of life (National Advisory Eye Council, 1993).



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