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More People Are Going Blind. AI Can Help Fight It

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A recent study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology estimated that 25.3% of people in Europe above the age of 60 have early signs of age-related macular degeneration.

Credit: Eliot Wyatt

Since 2017, ophthalmology has been the busiest of all the medical specialties in the UK's National Health Service in terms of clinical appointments. Nearly 10 percent of all NHS outpatient appointments are related to eye problems. That's nearly 10 million appointments per year, and that number has risen by more than a third in the past five years.

Between the ages of 18 and 65, the main cause of blindness is diabetic eye disease. But the population is getting older, and we're also seeing an increasing prevalence of diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD). That's the most common cause of blindness. A recent study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology estimated that 25.3 percent of people in Europe who are above the age of 60 have early signs of AMD. In the UK, about 200 people a day are also developing a severe form of AMD, called wet AMD, which causes blindness as a result of bleeding at the back of the eye.

Ophthalmologists are struggling to see and treat all these patients. Unfortunately, that means that many are going blind because of delays in diagnosis and treatment. All the evidence suggests that early detection and treatment equals safe sight.

Technology can mitigate these challenges. New eye scanners called optical coherence tomography (OCT) devices are being deployed in every optometry practice, such as your local Specsavers or Vision Express. These advanced scanners can take really high-resolution images of the retina in a noninvasive way.

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