NEI: millions have visual impairment

Bethesda, MD-Of the 14 million Americans that are visually impaired, more than 11 million have uncorrected visual impairment, such as nearsightedness, according to a study designed and supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (JAMA 2006;295:2158-2163).

Bethesda, MD-Of the 14 million Americans that are visually impaired, more than 11 million have uncorrected visual impairment, such as nearsightedness, according to a study designed and supported by the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (JAMA 2006;295:2158-2163).

"This study found that most people who have visual impairment could achieve good vision with proper eyeglasses or contact lenses," said Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, director, National Eye Institute, Bethesda, MD.

The study was part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 15,000 people participated in the survey from 1999 to 2002. They were interviewed in their homes and were invited to undergo a comprehensive health examination in a mobile center. More than 14,000 reported to the center, and more than 13,000 completed visual acuity tests.

"This is the first national survey on vision since the mid-1970s, and it confirms that uncorrected visual impairment is a major public health problem," said Elias A. Zerhouni, MD, director of the NIH. "The good news is that we now have information on the extent of visual impairment in the United States that will be available to policymakers as they seek to address health-care issues at the local, state, and national levels."

In a response to the study, the volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America, said it provides free vision screening and offers education materials. For those who need special financial assistance in obtaining eyeglasses and contact lenses, the organization offers help to local resources that can assist the public in locating these services. The group also works in Washington, DC, to build greater support for increasing patient access to care and treatment of eye diseases.

"Many Americans do not have access to affordable health care, especially when it comes to taking care of their eyes or their family's eyes," said Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. "That's why we work tirelessly with other organizations to help get people the care they need. We hope the results of this new research will continue to emphasize the need for increased programming and services for those affected."