How common is visual impairment?

Over 13 million Australians (55% of the total population) have one or more long-term eye conditions, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS). This includes:

  • 7.2 million with hyperopia (long-sightedness)
  • 6.3 million with myopia (short-sightedness)
  • 1.4 million with astigmatism (blurred vision)
  • 687,200 with presbyopia (farsightedness)
  • 548,600 with colour blindness
  • 410,800 with cataract
  • 236,600 with macular degeneration
  • 131,500 with blindness (complete and partial).

Long-term eye conditions are closely associated with increasing age. In 2017–18, long‑term eye conditions affected 93% of people aged 55 and over, compared with only 12% among people aged 0–14 (Figure 1). Females experience a higher prevalence of long-term eye conditions than males (59% and 51%, respectively) [1]. For eye health definitions see the Eye health glossary.

Figure 1: Prevalence of self-reported long-term eye conditions by age and sex, 2017–18

This vertical bar chart compares the percentage of self-reported long-term eye conditions across various age groups, by sex. The prevalence of long-term eye conditions increases with age, and was highest among people aged 65–74 for both males (93%25) and females (94%25). Long-term conditions were lowest among the 0–14 years age group for both males and females (12%25).

Source: ABS 2018 [1] (Data table).

Trends

According to the 2017–18 NHS [2], there has been a slight increase in the prevalence of both long-sightedness (from 25% to 28%) and short-sightedness (from 22% to 25%) since 2007–08 (Figure 2), after adjusting for age.

Figure 2: Trends in prevalence of long- and short-sightedness from 2007–08 to 2017–18

This line graph shows the prevalence of long- and short-sightedness from 2007–08 to 2017–18

Note: Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2010, ABS 2013, ABS 2016, ABS 2019 [2–5] (Data table).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

According to the National Eye Health Survey (NEHS), an estimated 18,300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 40 and over experienced vision impairment and blindness in 2016. The leading causes of vision impairment were uncorrected refractive error (63%), cataract (20%) and diabetic retinopathy (5.4%). Cataract was also the leading cause of blindness, accounting for 40% of blindness among Indigenous Australians [6].

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of vision impairment and blindness than other Australians (Figure 3). In 2016, both vision impairment and blindness were three times higher in Indigenous Australians compared with non-Indigenous Australians. Of the vision impairment and blindness among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, around 90% is preventable and treatable [6].

There are also some differences in the risk factors contributing to vision impairment. Older age and not undergoing eye examination were common risks. In addition, risk factors for vision impairment among Indigenous Australians included remoteness, sex, and diabetes in combination with never having had an eye examination [1].

Figure 3: Prevalence of bilateral vision impairment and blindness by Indigenous status, 2016

The vertical bar chart shows that, the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness was significantly higher in Indigenous Australians (14%25 and 0.4%25, respectively) compared with Non-Indigenous Australians (4.6%25 and 0.1%25).

Source: AIHW 2018 [7] (see source Table 1.1.1b).

References

  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017–18, detailed microdata, DataLab. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.
  2. ABS 2018. National Health Survey: First Reults, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS
  3. ABS 2016. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15, expanded CURF, DataLab. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.
  4. ABS 2013. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2011–12, expanded CURF, DataLab. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.
  5. ABS 2010. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2007–08, expanded CURF, DataLab. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.
  6. Centre for Eye Research Australia & Vision 2020 Australia 2016. The National Eye Health Survey 2016: Full report of the first national survey to determine the prevalence and major causes of vision impairment and blindness in Australia

  7. AIHW 2018. Indigenous eye health measures 2017. AIHW cat.no. IHW 192. Canberra: AIHW.