To assess the prevalence and causes of visual impairment and blindness in a Central European country. The findings may have implications for the planning of further research and development of therapies in order to prevent blindness.
Department of Ophthalmology, Medical University of Graz, Austria.
Retrospective, epidemiological study.
The database of the Main Confederation of Austrian Social Insurances was searched for patients with visual impairment, legal blindness or deaf-blindness. This database gathers data from patients of all insurance providers in the country who receive care due to visual impairment and blindness. To determine the prevalence of these conditions, the number of all entries recorded in February 2019 was evaluated. Additionally, all new entries between (January 1st,) 2017, and (December 31st,) 2018, were analysed for distinct characteristics, such as sex, the cause of blindness/visual impairment, and age. Since health care allowances can provide a considerable source of income (459.90€-936.90€ per month), good coverage of practically all patients who are blind and visually impaired in the country can be assumed.
On February 2nd, 2019, 17,730 patients with visual impairments, blindness or deaf-blindness were registered in Austria, resulting in a prevalence of these diagnoses of 0.2% in the country. During the observational period from 2017 to 2018, 4040 persons met the inclusion criteria. Of these, 2877 were female (65.3%), and 1527 were male (34.7%). The mean age was 75.7 ± 18.0 years (median 82). Most patients (n = 3675, 83.4%) were of retirement age, while 729 (16.6%) were working-age adults or minors. In total, an incidence of 25.0 (95% confidence limit (CL) 24.3–25.8) per 100,000 person-years was observed from 2017 to 2018. A higher incidence was observed for females (32.2, 95% CL 31.0–33.3) than for males (17.7, 95% CL 16.8–18.5). Incidences where higher for males in lower age groups (e.g. 10–14 years: rate ratio RR = 2.7, 95% CL 1.1–6.8), and higher for females in higher age groups (e.g. 70–74 years: RR = 0.6, 95% CL 0.5–0.8). In total, the most frequent diagnoses were macular degeneration (1075 persons, 24.4%), other retinal disorders (493 persons, 11.2%) and inherited retinal and choroidal diseases (IRDs) (186 persons, 4.2%). Persons with IRDs were significantly younger compared to persons with macular degeneration or retinal disorders (IRDs: median 57, range 2–96 vs 83, 5–98 and 82, 1–98 years, p<0.001). For persons of retirement age, macular degeneration, other retinal disorders and glaucoma were the three most frequent diagnoses. In contrast, among working-aged adults and children, IRDs were the leading cause of visual impairment and blindness (103 persons, 14.1%).
These data show that IRDs are the leading cause of blindness and visual impairment in working-aged persons and children in Austria. Thus, these findings suggest to draw attention to enhance further research in the fields of emerging therapies for IRDs.