What Is Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Also called atrophic AMD

In the United States, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people ages 50 years and older. The macula is the central part of the retina that allows fine details to be seen. People affected by macular degeneration have loss of central vision. Fine details will be difficult to see, regardless of distance. Peripheral, or side, vision typically remains normal.

Imagine looking at an analog clock. A person with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can see the numbers around the clock face but cannot see the hands on the clock due to the loss of central vision.

a woman with her hands around her eyes
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Types of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

About 80% to 85% of people affected by macular degeneration have dry macular degeneration. Age-related dry macular degeneration develops because parts of the macula become thinner and tiny clumps of protein, called drusen, grow as a result of retinal waste product buildup.

Wet macular degeneration is less common than dry macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration is considered more serious than dry macular degeneration. In wet macular degeneration, new, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These vessels often leak blood or blood products, which scars the macula. Wet macular degeneration causes vision loss more quickly than dry macular degeneration.

Symptoms of Dry AMD

Initial symptoms of dry AMD might be blurring of items in the central vision field or noticing that it is harder to read or do fine tasks like needlepoint in low-light settings. As dry AMD progresses, straight lines appear blurry and people affected with it will start to notice blank spots in the central vision field.

Causes

For dry AMD, minimizing risk factors that strongly correlate with development of the disease is important. Lifestyle modifications to consider include:

  • Smoking cessation
  • Dietary changes such as limiting consumption of foods high in saturated fats (e.g., meat, butter, and cheese)
  • Maintaining an ideal body weight
  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure

Diagnosis

An eye specialist, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, can perform a comprehensive eye exam, including dilating your pupils. After dilating your pupils, the eye specialist can determine if there are drusen deposits and thinning of the macula. Your eye specialist can identify the beginning of dry AMD in the early stage and develop a treatment plan to slow its progression to the next stage.

Treatment

Dry AMD has no treatments available. One large study, the Age Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS, suggested various antioxidants and mineral supplements may help slow the progression of the condition.

Additionally, a diet with dark leafy greens, yellow fruits and vegetables, and fish has also been shown to be beneficial in dry macular degeneration.

Prognosis

Dry AMD is a progressive disease that continues to decrease the central visual field until it is gone. If left untreated, people affected by dry AMD are unable to drive and even have trouble performing activities associated with daily living, such as grocery shopping and cooking.

There are eye specialists who can provide education and assistance to people affected with dry AMD. They can help patients leverage their intact peripheral vision in order to perform activities associated with daily living.

Coping

The progressive nature of dry AMD, combined with the lack of treatment to halt or reverse the impact to central vision, can be overwhelming for someone with the condition. There are vision rehabilitation specialists who can provide assistance, support, and training to allow people affected by it to function independently. Collaborating with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to find the right vision rehabilitation specialist can be an important part of coping with dry AMD.

Summary

Dry macular degeneration can lead to central vision loss, but not total blindness because it doesn't affect your peripheral vision. It's a progressive condition, so identifying and treating it early can prevent the symptoms caused by the condition from getting worse. Research has shown that taking certain vitamins and minerals can help with dry AMD.

A Word From Verywell

Routine eye exams by an eye professional, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist, can help identify dry macular degeneration early in the disease process. Vision loss can be challenging, especially with things such as driving. However, early identification can allow you to implement the recommended dietary and lifestyle modifications as well as possible treatments to slow or stop further vision loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is dry or wet macular degeneration worse?

Although dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration both cause central vision loss, wet macular degeneration is considered more serious. Wet macular degeneration affects vision loss faster than dry macular degeneration.

What can be done for dry macular degeneration?

There is no known treatment for dry macular degeneration. Conditions associated with macular degeneration, such as having a family history, are not necessarily risk factors that can be changed. However, other factors known to increase the potential of developing dry macular degeneration, such as smoking cigarettes, consuming a diet high in saturated fats (e.g., meat, cheese, and butter), being overweight, and having high blood pressure, can be addressed and help decrease your chances of developing dry macular degeneration.

What do you do for your vision with dry macular degeneration?

The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) suggests that specific dietary modifications and taking specific vitamins and minerals can slow dry macular degeneration. Foods to include in a prevention-focused diet include leafy green vegetables, yellow fruits and vegetables, and fish. Specific vitamins and minerals identified in the AREDS study are vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper.

How long does it take to go blind with dry macular degeneration?

Blindness is not a common result of dry macular degeneration or wet macular degeneration. Macular degeneration causes loss of vision in the central part of the visual field. Peripheral vision typically is unaffected, so you won't be completely blind.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology.  What is macular degeneration? Updated January 26, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control. Common Eye Disorders and Diseases.  Updated June 30, 2020.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Advances in the treatment of dry age-related macular degeneration. Updated January 24, 2017.

  4. Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS): design implications. AREDS report no. 1. Control Clin Trials. 1999;20(6):573-600. doi:10.1016/s0197-2456(99)00031-8

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Updated 2021.