Macular Hole Symptoms and Treatment

It sounds frightening and it can be: A macular hole is an opening in the macula of your eye. The macula is a highly specialized area of the central retina that gives us the ability to see fine detail. We use our macula and central vision to view detailed objects when reading or driving. Usually occurring in people over the age of 60, macular holes can cause rapid loss of central vision.

Doctor performing eye exam on elderly man
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Macular holes usually develop slowly. In the beginning, you might notice missing letters while reading, distorted vision, or blurry central vision in one eye. Straight edges may appear bowed or wavy. In advanced cases, you may have great central vision loss or notice a missing spot in your vision.


The back cavity of the eye is filled with a gel-like substance called vitreous. In certain places, the vitreous adheres to the retina by tiny fibers. As we age, vitreous begins to liquefy and collapse on itself. When this begins to happen, the vitreous may pull away from the retina. This is called posterior vitreous detachment.

Most older adults never notice this process (which is normal) but a few people do experience "floaters" that may come in and out of their vision. Unfortunately, sometimes the gel pulls away from the macula, too, causing a macular hole. In other cases, the tiny fibers that are tied to the retina may pull the macula and cause a macular hole. Fluid may accumulate and cause distorted or blurry vision.

Types of Macular Holes

Macular holes are classified based on size and progression. The four stages of a macular hole are:

  • Stage 1 (macular cyst): A new macular hole may appear as a yellow macular cyst. Up to 50% of macular cysts spontaneously go away and the macula returns to normal.
  • Stage 2 (early macular hole): The cyst begins to take on an oval, crescent or horseshoe shape. Vision begins to decrease, becoming distorted or blurry. Up to 70% of stage 2 holes progress to stage 3.
  • Stage 3 (full thickness macular hole): A stage 3 hole is defined by its great size. People with stage 3 holes often develop significant vision problems. Stage 3 macular holes are also defined by a rim of elevated tissue.
  • Stage 4: A stage 4 macular hole is similar to a stage 3, but the patient also has a posterior vitreous detachment.


If a macular hole is not caused by trauma and doesn't occur along with other eye diseases, the hole can be treated with a reasonable chance of success. Larger and older macular holes have a decreased chance of successful treatment.

Very early macular holes are monitored by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. Your eye doctor may use an Amsler grid to check your central vision. Your eye doctor may also dilate your eyes and take digital retinal photographs. A fairly new technology called optical coherence tomography can be used to monitor you closely for possible progression into stage 2 macular hole.

A Stage 2 or greater macular hole is typically treated by surgery performed by a retinal specialist. Most surgery for repair of macular holes centers around removing the vitreous gel and replacing it with a special gas.

This gas holds the edges of the macula together to allow healing. This gas treatment usually requires you to hold your head in a face-down position anywhere from a few hours to 2 weeks depending on the surgeon. Research is currently evaluating how important this step is, as it is very difficult for the patient.

A Word From Verywell

If you develop a macular hole in one eye, you have about a 30% chance of it developing one in the other eye. If you have a macular hole in one eye and the other eye has a posterior vitreous detachment, your chance of developing another macular hole begins to decrease. If you notice any change in your central vision, see your eye doctor right away. Early detection and treatment of macular are crucial for a positive outcome.

2 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. Parravano M, Giansanti F, Eandi CM, Yap YC, Rizzo S, Virgili G. Vitrectomy for idiopathic macular hole. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(5):CD009080. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009080.pub2.

  2. Budoff G, Bhagat N, Zarbin MA. Traumatic macular hole: Diagnosis, natural history, and management. J Ophthalmol. 2019;2019:5837832. doi:10.1155/2019/5837832

Additional Reading

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.