Purpose: The purpose of this study was to ascertain the prevalence and primary causes of visual impairment in a representative Canadian population.
Methods: We reviewed a representative sample of patients who attended ophthalmologists' offices in a medium-sized Canadian city between 1996 and 2001 in order to estimate the prevalence of visual impairment. Demographic data, visual diagnoses, best-corrected visual acuities (BCVA), and visual field information were recorded. Visual status was categorized based on accepted World Health Organization (WHO) and North American criteria. Population data were obtained from the Canadian census.
Results: The prevalence of low vision and blindness in our population was 35.6 and 3.8 per 10 000 individuals, according to the WHO classification, and 71.2 and 23.6 per 10 000 individuals, using the North American definition. Among individuals with some vision loss (vision worse than 20/40), cataract and visual pathway disease were the most common causes, together accounting for 40% of visual impairment. Age-related macular degeneration and other retinal diseases were the next most common causes of vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma were less frequently encountered as causes of visual impairment.
Conclusion: The overall prevalence of low vision and blindness in Canada are in keeping with data from large population-based studies from other developed nations. Cataract, visual pathway disease, and macular degeneration are the leading causes of visual impairment. These results are important for enhancing our understanding of the scope of vision health in Canada and may direct future health planning and cost-utilization research.