Epidemiology studies highlight glaucoma public health impact

September 19, 2005

San Francisco - Statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002 indicate glaucoma has become a more common cause of blindness than it was in the past, said Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD, the Frances and Ray Stark Professor of Ophthalmology, Jules Stein Eye Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles.

San Francisco - Statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002 indicate glaucoma has become a more common cause of blindness than it was in the past, said Anne L. Coleman, MD, PhD, the Frances and Ray Stark Professor of Ophthalmology, Jules Stein Eye Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles.

While glaucoma previously ranked third on the WHO list of leading causes of blindness worldwide, in the 2002 report the disease had moved up to second place. Overall, an estimated 12.3% of the world’s 37 million blind had lost their sight because of glaucoma.

The growing size of the older population combined with improved treatment for infectious disease-related causes of blindness have contributed to the change in glaucoma’s ranking. In the United States, an estimated 2.2 million people aged 40 years and older have been diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma, and that number is expected to reach 3.3 million by the year 2020.

“The bottom line is that glaucoma is a disease with a huge public health impact, and for that reason there is significant interest in directing human and financial resources toward its prevention and treatment,” Dr. Coleman said.

Strategies to prevent blindness from glaucoma will need to focus on the identification of risk factors and how they can be used to determine screening, treatment, and monitoring. In that regard, ethnicity-related differences in glaucoma risk are important to consider.

“Glaucoma is three times more common in African-Americans than in whites and together with cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in African-Americans, while recent data from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study indicate that glaucoma prevalence rises rapidly after age 65 in Hispanics and it is the most common cause of blindness in older Hispanics,” Dr. Coleman said.