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Likelihood of Blindness From Glaucoma Has Dropped by Nearly Half

January 2014 — The probability of blindness due to the serious eye disease glaucoma has decreased by nearly half since 1980, according to a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic. The study was the first to assess long-term changes in the risk of progression to blindness and the population incidence of glaucoma-related blindness.

Woman undergoing an eye pressure test with a tonometer.
“Puff tests” and other testing for glaucoma have become almost routine during eye exams. Early detection of the disease helps explain why the probability of blindness has decreased, at least in some areas.

Researchers analyzed the medical records of all the people 40 and older in Olmsted County, Minn., who were diagnosed with the eye disease between 1981 and 2000. They compared these people with patients diagnosed with glaucoma between 1965 and 1980.

The incidence of glaucoma did not change, but the risk of going blind in at least one eye fell from about 26 percent in the earlier group to less than 14 percent in the newer group. The researchers also found that the annual incidence of glaucoma-caused blindness dropped by more than half.

Advances in diagnosis and therapy are likely causes for the decrease, according to researchers. But they caution that a significant proportion of glaucoma patients still progress to blindness. Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and affects more than 2.7 million individuals aged 40 and older in the United States and 60.5 million people globally.