Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of macular degeneration. Some people experience less severe symptoms and slower vision loss compared to others. Although it is possible to retain close to normal vision for years despite having macular degeneration, the eye disease is considered progressive and usually gets worse with time.

Most symptoms do not cause any pain. Because the risk for eye problems, including AMD, increases after the age of 40, it’s important to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year.

macular degeneration (AMD) symptoms
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Quiet Symptoms

Vision loss in early cases of macular degeneration is so gradual that most people do not even notice it. As the disease progresses, there may be a profound loss or graying of central vision, while peripheral vision remains unchanged.

Your healthcare provider may detect the presence of macular degeneration before you develop noticeable symptoms of the disease.

In its early stages, your healthcare provider may detect drusen or waste deposits on the surface of your retina. Sometimes a color change may occur within the macula.

Early Symptoms

At first, images that usually appear clear and sharp often become blurred. As the disease progresses, images can become distorted, enlarged, cloudy, dark or spotted. You may experience:

  • Visual distortions (straight lines seem bent)
  • Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
  • A need for brighter light when reading or doing near work
  • Difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit room
  • Blurriness of printed words
  • Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

Advanced Symptoms

As symptoms progress, vision may become worse, possibly affecting your ability to do things such as read, drive, and recognize faces. Symptoms may include a blurred spot in the center of your vision. The blurred spot may continue to get bigger and darker. Detailed tasks such as reading and writing will become more difficult. In cases of advanced macular degeneration, vision can gradually reduce over time and permanent blindness may occur.

Types of AMD

AMD is divided into two types, "dry" and "wet," with the dry form making up 90% of cases.

  • Dry AMD: Parts of the macula get thinner with age, and tiny clumps of protein made of lipids called drusen grow. Central vision is lost slowly. Dry macular degeneration is also referred to as non-exudative macular degeneration.
  • Wet AMD: New, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These vessels may leak blood or other fluids, causing scarring of the macula. Vision loss is much more aggressive. Wet macular degeneration is referred to as exudative macular degeneration.
Drusen are yellow deposits under the retina.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have a family history of macular degeneration, especially with significant vision loss, it is highly recommended to schedule annual medical eye examinations.

It is important to note that you should be having a comprehensive examination with dilation of the pupil, and not a simple vision screening performed by your primary care healthcare provider.

These examinations can be performed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. In addition, smoking and having cardiovascular disease increase your risk for developing the disease. If you have either of these risks, make sure to put an eye exam on your schedule every year.

Macular Degeneration Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

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

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Since macular degeneration can progress quickly in some cases, call your eye healthcare provider immediately if you notice any of the following changes:

  • You have sudden, rapid loss of vision.
  • You notice a new blank or dark spot in the center of your vision.
  • Straight lines appear wavy or curved, or objects begin to change size or shape or appear distorted.
  • You see either of the following on an Amsler grid: lines that change or appear wavy and curved, or a blank spot that you have not noticed before in the grid.

Certain forms of macular degeneration can progress very quickly but can respond to treatment if caught in time. See your eye healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Changes in your central vision
  • A decrease in your ability to see colors and fine detail

These changes may be the first indication of macular degeneration, especially if you're over the age of 50. It is important when checking your vision at home to check each eye independently. Cover one eye and check the other eye and then alternate. If you check often, it will be easier to notice subtle changes.

Macular degeneration almost always affects both eyes, but it can be much worse in one eye.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

    The common signs and symptoms of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) include:

    • Visual distortion (metamorphopsia)
    • An overall decrease in central vision
    • Blurred vision
    • Loss of visual contrast or color sensitivity
    • Slow recovery of vision after exposure to bright light
  • What are symptoms of wet macular degeneration?

    Wet macular degeneration is the result of the progression of dry macular degeneration (the most common form of the disease). It is caused when blood vessels in the retina leak blood and fluid into the macula. In addition to worsening symptoms, wet AMD may also involve:

    • Blind spots
    • Reduced central vision in both eyes
    • Difficulty adapting to low light levels
    • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • Can macular degeneration cause blindness?

    Although macular degeneration can cause significant vision loss, making it difficult to read, drive, or perform daily functions, it rarely causes blindness. Because the macula makes up less than 10% of the retina, peripheral vision is largely preserved.

  • How fast do symptoms of macular degeneration progress?

    Macular degeneration tends to progress slowly. People with intermediate-stage AMD in one eye have a 6% chance of progression to the late-stage disease and vision loss within five years. The speed of progression may be faster if both eyes are affected and the area of involvement is large. In such cases, the risk of vision loss within five years is 26%.

  • Can you reverse symptoms of macular degeneration?

    Some studies suggest that early-stage AMD can be reversed to some extent with high-dose statin drugs. However, as the disease advances, light receptive cells called rod and cone photoreceptors undergo wasting (atrophy) and die. There is currently no treatment to reverse this, although scientists are investigating whether retinal stem cell transplants may one day help.

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