Objective: To assess the prevalence and causes of vision loss in Australia and to project these data into the future.
Design: Synthesis of data from two cross-sectional population-based cohort studies--the Melbourne Visual Impairment Project and the Blue Mountains Eye Study--and extrapolation to the entire Australian population.
Setting and participants: 8376 community and 533 nursing home residents recruited between 1992 and 1996 in urban and rural Victoria and New South Wales.
Main outcome measures: Age-standardised prevalence of low vision (visual acuity < 6/12) and blindness (visual acuity < 6/60) (both measured in the best eye, with spectacles if usually worn for distance vision), and their causes for the Australian population for 2000 to 2024, projected from Australian Bureau of Statistics population data.
Results: In 2004, 480,300 Australians were estimated to have low vision, including 50,600 with blindness. The most common causes of low vision were undercorrected refractive error (62%), cataract (14%) and age-related macular degeneration (10%). The latter was responsible for almost half of all cases of blindness. The numbers of people with low vision and blindness are projected to almost double by 2024.
Conclusions: Vision loss in Australia is a much bigger problem than is usually recognised; 76% of low vision is caused by uncorrected refractive error or cataract, both readily treatable. However, the prevention and treatment of macular degeneration poses a major challenge.