A WHO report estimates that, globally, at least 2.2 billion people are blind or visually impaired, among whom around 1.8 billion have presbyopia. Since these figures do not include many of those who correct their vision with glasses or contact lenses, accurate estimates of the number of people actually suffering from eye problems are thought to be difficult to make. What impact do eye problems, such as presbyopia, myopia, dry eyes and eye stress, have on people’s lives and society as a whole? This article focuses on eye problems that few people recognize as diseases.
The progress of population aging, the spread of digital devices, and changes in work and lifestyles have drastically changed the environment surrounding our vision. People do not seem to take longer time to rest their eyes by freeing their eyes from overwork or by sleeping, so today vision is the most overused sense of all. The environment surrounding human eyes has thus become increasingly harsh.
The reality is that, although eye problems can have significant impacts on people’s Quality of Life (QOL), few people recognize such problems as diseases and use appropriate methods to take care of their eyes or prevent such problems from leading to severer eye diseases. A major challenge is lack of correct knowledge of vision among the public.
Presbyopia is a typical eye condition. It is a gradual loss of the eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects due to age-caused loss of the crystalline lenses’ elasticity and deterioration of the ciliary muscles, which control the thickness of the lenses. It is expected that global population increase and the aging of the population will entail a further rise in the population with presbyopia.
Although the lenses’ accommodation ability begins to gradually decrease in one’s teens, few people experience inconveniences in their everyday lives until their 30s. People find themselves suffering from presbyopia once their eyes become unable to focus on nearby objects around their 40s. Most people become unable to see any nearby objects without glasses around their 70s. Presbyopia is a familiar eye problem to many people, and they understand they will suffer from it someday. However, few people have a clear idea about the inconveniences of the condition and how it will affect their own lives, until the condition progresses.
Furthermore, even after experiencing early symptoms of presbyopia, most people continue to lead their daily lives as usual while enduring inconveniences, thinking “It’s natural to have presbyopia at my age,” or “There’s no other way than to carry glasses with me all the time, although it’s inconvenient.” In recent years, it is noteworthy that presbyopia-like symptoms caused by the decline in the eye’s focusing ability have often occurred even in people in their teens to 30s, due to long-term use of IT devices such as smartphones. To help people maintain their visual function for as long as possible, it is essential to heighten their anticipation of suffering from presbyopia and their awareness of the importance of eye care as early as possible.
The global population with myopia is now increasing rapidly, and it is projected that, by 2050, about five billion people–half the world’s population–will be suffering from myopia. It is thought that lifestyle changes and the consequent decline in time spent outdoors are major factors behind the increase in the number of people suffering from myopia. Some national governments, such as China, have positioned myopia as an important social issue and have begun to implement countermeasures against the disease.
Myopia is caused by an abnormal front-to-back extension of the eyeball. This may weaken the sclera and retina and impose a great burden on the optic nerve. Therefore, the higher your degree of myopia, the more serious the risk of glaucoma and other eye diseases you may face. In addition, myopia includes pathological myopia, which can lead directly to vision loss. So myopia should be appropriately treated in order to increase people’s QOL (Quality of Life) and prevent the disorder from leading to more serious eye problems in the future.
Stress increased by the environment and eye use may produce various eye symptoms, such as a feeling of dryness or tiredness in the eyes, foreign body sensation, or conjunctival injection. Neglect of such symptoms may lead to severer diseases, such as dry eyes or asthenopia (eyestrain). In addition, looking at computer or smartphone displays for long periods of time will not only hamper your eyes’ focusing ability but also affect your mind and body in various other ways, including fatigue, pain and dryness of your eyes, blurred vision, and dizziness, as well as stiffness and pain in your shoulders and neck, and a feeling of irritation. Even when experiencing such symptoms, however, many people take no action or take only temporary action, believing that there is no way to relieve those symptoms caused by their physical makeup or environment. It is expected that the current environment that requires people to overuse their eyes will remain harsh or become even harsher in the future.
The social impact of eye problems is more than just a decline in individual QOL. Myopia is considered the world’s most common eye problem, and the number of people affected is expected to increase to 3.36 billion by 2030. Visual impairments, are on the rise globally, are estimated to result in annual economic losses of as much as US$410.7 billion. Initiatives to address eye health have led to improvements in education and the workforce, making the implementation of such initiatives a key social issue for achieving a sustainable society.
In this age of the growing importance of vision, maintaining your vision appropriately will not only help you maintain a comfortable life, but also considerably benefit your self-actualization. Santen will continue to endeavor further as a specialized ophthalmic company to reduce the number of people suffering from eye problems as much as possible.