Vision loss related to type-2 diabetes in the United States has increased by 20% in less than 10 years, report researchers. The overall numbers are still low (under 2% of the population), but that’s a pretty steep climb. And the biggest spike in diabetes-related vision loss has occurred in people ages 20 to 39.
“These are really dramatic findings, and they’re kind of the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming ahead,” study author and Johns Hopkins University doctor David Friedman told Reuters.
Sight problems like this are usually rare in adults under 40, according to epidemiologist David Musch. But Americans have been developing what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes at younger and younger ages, spurred by childhood obesity and poor nutrition (one study earlier this year said the number of 12 to 19-year-olds with diabetes or prediabetes rose nearly 300% between 1998 and 2008). Because diabetes-related sight loss is especially likely to hit after 10 years, we could see vision loss soar as all these diabetic kids and young adults grow up.
According to the 2012 America’s Health Rankings released Tuesday, nearly 10% of American adults have diabetes. Friedman and team can’t prove the rise in vision loss and diabetes they saw are linked, but nothing else in their data explains the association, they say.
“The only (association) that got worse and got dramatically worse is diabetes, and not just diabetes, but diabetes for a long time,” Friedman told Reuters.
The number of study subjects who’d had diabetes for at least 10 years went from 2.8% to 3.6% in the past decade. In people under 40, it jumped from 0.3% to 0.7%. [See the study here.]
The type of vision loss caused by diabetes is known as “nonrefractive vision impairment,” and it can’t be corrected with glasses. Laser therapy or surgery may correct the problem, but some cases will lead to permanent vision loss. Though it doesn’t usually approach full blindness, diabetes-related vision loss does interfere with things like reading or having a driver’s license.