What's the worst that could happen? Vision loss, survey says

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published August 4, 2016

Key Takeaways

Most people would rather lose a limb than lose their eyesight, according to the results of a nationwide poll. Indeed, if given a choice, most people would prefer to lose their hearing, their memory, or their ability to speak rather than losing their vision, according to the survey results published online August 4, 2016 in JAMA Ophthalmology.

The survey polled 2,044 Americans from across all ethnic, racial, and economic demographics. Nearly 88% of respondents viewed eye health as critical to overall health, and 47% considered vision loss to be the worst possible health condition that could happen them—even worse than Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, or AIDS/HIV.

“These findings underscore the importance of good eyesight to most and that having good vision is key to one’s overall sense of well-being, irrespective of ethnic or racial demographic,” wrote Adrienne W. Scott, MD, and colleagues at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, MD.

Among the possible consequences of vision loss, respondents ranked quality of life as the greatest concern, followed by loss of independence.

“Persons with greater visual impairments have been shown to have a decreased quality of life, linked to a perception of having less control over their environment, supporting our findings that respondents across all ethnic and racial backgrounds listed blindness high among most-feared ailments,” the authors wrote.

While 81.5% of Americans reported having an eye examination, many were not well aware of the diseases and conditions that lead to vision loss. Nearly two-thirds of respondents reported awareness of cataracts (65.8%) or glaucoma (63.4%), but only half were aware of macular degeneration, and 37.3% were aware of diabetic retinopathy.

As many as 25% of all respondents weren’t aware of any eye conditions.

Of the risk factors for vision loss, 75.8% of respondents understood sunlight to be a risk factor, and 58.3% were aware that family heritage plays a role, but only half knew that smoking could contribute to vision loss.

When told that the federal government spends an average of $2.10 per person each year on eye and vision research, 45.9% of respondents said that was not enough.

“This study and its findings are consistent with the large body of previously published literature demonstrating the enormous value that humans place on their vision,” the authors concluded. “For the first time, to our knowledge, these cross-sectional data are presented from a multiethnic sample of Americans and show that Americans support resource allocation dedicated to the research for prevention of vision loss.”

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