March 12 (UPI) -- A growing number of Americans are at high risk for vision loss, a new study published Thursday by JAMA Ophthalmology has found.
In a comparison of eye health data for two years, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 93 million adults across the country were at increased risk for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, among others, in 2017. That is nearly 30 million more than the 65 million at risk in 2002.
Overall, the researchers say nearly 38 percent of U.S. adults were at risk for loss of vision as a result of eye diseases or other causes in 2017.
"Part of the reason the number of Americans who are at higher risk for vision loss increased is due to the aging US population and the increase in prevalence of diabetes, both of which put individuals at greater risk for vision loss," Sharon Saydah, a researcher with CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease, Prevention and Health Promotion, told UPI.
Indeed, she and her co-authors note that the percentage of adults 65 years or older nationally increased from 16 percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2017.
The CDC researchers derived their estimates from responses to the National Health Interview Survey, an annual, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. They focused on three self-reported measures: visits to eye care professionals, eye exams and need for -- but inability to afford -- eyeglasses.
Adults at high risk for vision loss included those who: were 65 years of age or older, self-reported a diabetes diagnosis or had vision or eye problems. The authors used data from 30,920 respondents to the 2002 survey and 32,886 respondents to the 2017 survey and calculated risk estimates based on 2010 U.S. Census data.
A higher percentage of study participants, 56.9 percent, visited an eye care professional in 2017 compared to 2002, 51.1 percent. In addition, more Americans underwent eye exams in the more recent year, 59.8 percent versus 52.4 percent.
However, more people reported needing eyeglasses and being unable to afford them in 2017, 8.7 percent, than in 2002, 8.3 percent. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2017, individuals with lower incomes were more likely to report eyeglasses as unaffordable, 13.6 percent, compared to those with higher incomes, 5.7 percent.
"In addition to eye care services, Americans can protect their eye health by maintaining blood sugar levels if you have diabetes, knowing your family's eye health history, eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight, stop smoking -- or never start -- wear protective eye wear and sunglasses, give your eyes a rest, and clean hands and contact lenses properly," Saydah said.