To estimate the prevalence of major eye diseases and low vision or blindness in a national sample of male US Union Army veterans from 1890 to 1910 and to compare these prevalence rates with contemporary rates for the same diseases and visual status.
Longitudinal histories of 16 022 white Union Army veterans receiving disability pensions from 1890 to 1910 were developed from pension board examination records. Prevalence rates of trachoma, corneal opacities, cataract, diseases of the retina and optic nerve, and low vision or blindness were calculated in 1895 and 1910. Changes in prevalence by age were examined.
By 1910, 11.9% of veterans had low vision or were blind in both eyes. Prevalence of cataract increased with age, resulting in 13.1% of veterans having had cataract in one or both eyes. Rates of trachoma were 3.2% in 1895 and 4.8% in 1910. Rates of corneal opacity were 3.0% and 5.1%, respectively. Glaucoma was rarely diagnosed from 1890 to 1910, but diseases of the optic nerve were reported in 2.0% of veterans in 1895 and 3.6% in 1910.
This study documents substantial reductions in the prevalence of low vision or blindness and changes in the composition of eye diseases from an era in which there were few effective therapies for eye diseases to the present.