TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Serious visual impairment -- not simply the need for glasses -- increased 21 percent between 1999 and 2008 for American adults older than 20 and diabetes may have played a significant part in that trend, new research suggests.
A number of factors appeared to contribute to the incidence of visual impairment, including a lack of insurance, poverty and age. However, the one risk factor that remained consistent throughout the study was diabetes, particularly diabetes lasting 10 years or more.
Another concerning finding linked to diabetes was a sharp increase in the incidence of visual impairment in young white people between the ages of 20 and 39. The rate of visual impairment in this group jumped 40 percent, while the rate of longstanding diabetes in young white adults rose 133 percent, according to the study.
"There has been a change on two fronts during the last seven to 10 years. One is that visual impairment is increasing, and this is visual impairment that can't be fixed with glasses. The other is that 20- to 39-year-olds are now losing vision as well," said study author Dr. Fang Ko, an ophthalmologist and resident at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Results of the study are published in the Dec. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Causes of visual impairment include age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and other retinal disorders. About 3 million people in the United States have a visual impairment that can't be corrected with glasses, according to the study.
Ko said that in order to be classified as visually impaired, someone must have vision that's 20/40 or worse. If you have 20/40 vision that means you can clearly see something from 20 feet away that someone with normal vision could see from
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