Macular Degeneration Tests and Exams for Diagnosis

Consider Getting Tested at Around Age 40

Ophthalmologists and optometrists diagnose macular degeneration as part of a comprehensive eye exam.

Accurate diagnosis is made through a combination of a clinical exam and specific tests. These can include retinal photography, angiography, and optical coherence tomography.

Macular degeneration is usually classified as atrophic (dry) or exudative (wet) forms.

In this article, you'll learn when to get tested for macular degeneration, which tests diagnose it, and early symptoms to watch out for.

Eye Examination and Tests

To check for macular degeneration, an ophthalmologist or optometrist will perform a comprehensive eye exam. They will dilate your eyes to see a magnified view of the macula.

Studying the macula and other structures of the eye will help your doctor make a diagnosis and may include the following tests.

How Macular Degeneration is Diagnosed

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Dilated Eye Exam

A healthcare provider will dilate your pupils with eye drops to view the back of your retina. Dilation makes it possible for them to check the back of the eye for signs of disease, like retinal and optic nerve disease damage.

A dilated retinal exam allows the doctor to see a magnified view of the macula. They may note a mottled appearance caused by pigmentary changes in the macula.

In the early stage of macular degeneration, your healthcare provider may find drusen. These are yellow-colored deposits that form underneath the retina.


An ophthalmoscope is an instrument used to examine the eye's interior structures, especially the retina. It consists of a mirror that reflects light into the eye and a central hole through which the eye is examined. Your healthcare provider will be able to detect any damage or changes in the retina and macula.

Fluorescein Angiography

Healthcare providers will use a method of injecting a special dye into the bloodstream, then photograph the circulation of this dye within your eye. If fluorescent patches appear, your healthcare provider may suspect leaking blood vessels in the retina.

Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a test that optometrists and ophthalmologists use to image the back of your eye. This includes the macula, optic nerve, retina, and choroid.

OCT can identify regions of the retina that are thinning, which indicates geographic atrophy. An OCT test is able to show changes in the retina in greater detail than any other instrument.


Tonometry is a test to measure the pressure inside your eyes, or intraocular eye pressure (IOP). High eye pressure can damage the delicate nerve fibers in the back of your eye, and can sometimes result in blindness.

Elevated eye pressure isn't directly related to macular degeneration, but it's performed to rule out other conditions, like glaucoma. This is important so that it can be determined for sure if vision loss is coming from a disease of the macular or other parts of the eye.

Fundus Autofluorescence Imaging

This imaging method uses the body's natural fluorescence to study the retina. Certain structures in the body will light up when exposed to light. Atrophied sections of the eye do not light up, which may indicate a diagnosis of macular degeneration.

Amsler Grid

Your ophthalmologist may ask you to look at an Amsler grid. This grid will help you notice any blurry or blank spots in your field of vision.

Macular Degeneration Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Self Checks and At-Home Testing

Report sudden changes in your vision to your healthcare provider. Some changes can mark the beginning of macular degeneration.

Some people suddenly notice discrepancies when they look at things like miniblinds or other items with straight lines. Some of the lines may appear wavy or inconsistent with the other lines.

You can quickly test your vision at home with the Amsler grid.

How to Use the Amsler Grid

Keep the Amsler grid somewhere you'll look at it every day, like on the refrigerator door or bathroom mirror. Take a look at the grid standing about 12 to 15 inches away. Make sure you are wearing your reading glasses if you wear them regularly.

Cover one eye and look directly at the dot in the center of the grid with your uncovered eye. Note if any of the lines appear bent or wavy. Also, check to see if any part of the grid looks blurry, dim, or out of proportion. Now cover your other eye and test your vision the same way.

Call your ophthalmologist or optometrist right away if you notice any changes on the grid.

Age-related macular degeneration causes vision changes over time. Treating these changes early can help to slow or prevent further vision loss.

American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has provided a helpful Amsler grid for your convenience.

Schedule Eye Exams

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone aged 40 and 54 get a comprehensive eye exam at least every two to four years. This can help early detection of age-related macular degeneration.

By age 55, adults should schedule an eye exam every one to three years.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for macular degeneration to result in blindness?

    Macular degeneration occurs in stages. Vision loss doesn't become a possibility until the later stages.

    Most people with macular degeneration will keep their vision for most of their lives. After many years, if vision loss does occur, it is usually central vision, while side and peripheral vision are preserved.

  • What steps can I take to prevent macular degeneration?

    Prevent macular degeneration and slow its progress by making the following changes:

    • Quit smoking
    • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
    • Consume an antioxidant-rich diet
    • Take key supplements for vision health
    • Make smart carb choices
    • Wear sunglasses
    • Get regular eye exams
  • What are the early signs of macular degeneration?

    It depends on the type of macular generation you have, but sometimes there are no symptoms in the early stages. That's why it's important to have a routine eye exam.

    A common early symptom of wet macular degeneration is that straight lines appear wavy and distorted. For dry macular degeneration, you may experience blurred vision.

  • At what age does macular degeneration usually begin?

    Macular degeneration usually begins at age 55 years and older.

  • Do you always go blind with macular degeneration?

    No. People with macular degeneration rarely go blind from it, but it can lead to a serious loss of central vision.

9 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. How is AMD Diagnosed and Treated? American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  2. Mathenge W. Age-related macular degenerationCommunity Eye Health. 2014;27(87):49-50.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. Macular degeneration. Harvard Health.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Have AMD? Save your sight with an Amsler grid.

  5. Frequency of Ocular Examinations - 2015. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  6. Dunaief J. Bright Focus Foundation. What to expect when you receive a diagnosis of AMD.

  7. Michigan Health. 7 healthy habits to help prevent macular degeneration.

  8. Mount Sinai Health Library. Macular degeneration - age-related.

  9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Additional Reading
  • Boyd, Kierstan. "Macular Degeneration Diagnosis: How is AMD diagnosed?" American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 Mar 2017.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.