The leading cause of sight loss could affect 77 million Europeans by 2050, research suggests.
A new study by the University of Bonn in Germany predicts age-related macular degeneration (AMD) will increase by at least 15% over the next 30 years as we continue to live longer.
At present, around 67 million people in the EU are affected by any form of AMD, which is far more common in older people.
By 2050, the scientists predict a quarter of older adults in the EU will have AMD, ranging from just under one in 10 of those under 65 to around 27% of those over 75.
AMD causes changes to the macula at the back of the eye, which leads to problems with central vision.
Over time, sight can become distorted or blurry and a blank patch may appear.
AMD can come on gradually over several years, known as “dry AMD”.
It can also appear in just weeks or months, “wet AMD”.
No matter how advanced the condition, AMD rarely causes sight loss due to the peripheral vision being unaffected, according to the Macular Society.
More women suffer from AMD than men. High blood pressure, a lack of exercise and smoking all raise the risk.
However, age is the single biggest risk factor.
Around one in every 200 people has AMD at 60, rising to one in five by 90, Macular Society statistics show.
To learn about how AMD will affect people in the future, the German scientists looked at 26 studies with a total of more than 55,000 people, aged between 60 and 81.
They used these studies to monitor how AMD’s prevalence has changed with growing life expectancy.
Results - published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology - suggest the number of EU inhabitants with late AMD will increase from 67 million to 77 million by 2050.
Late AMD is defined as the condition progressing and becoming “vision threatening”, according to the NHS.
Helen Lee, eye health policy and campaigns manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: “NHS eye care services are already at breaking point.
“While thousands of people receive excellent NHS eye care services, too many are facing delays to treatment which is resulting in irreversible sight loss. This is completely unacceptable.
“This study into age-related macular degeneration shows the situation will only get worse.
“However, there are solutions. The Government needs to demonstrate leadership, make better use of the eye care workforce, train more specialist eye care doctors and improve the planning of eye care services.
“This needs to be done urgently to prepare for the massive increase in demand which the study highlights is on the horizon.”