Macular Degeneration

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Macular degeneration is when the retina tissue that lines the back of the eye wears down. This tissue, called the macula, sends visual signals to the brain. Macular degeneration causes a gradual loss of sharp, central vision. The condition is mainly a disease of aging. In rare cases, it can occur in younger people.

Macular Degeneration Types

There are two types of adult (or age-related) macular degeneration (AMD):

  • Dry AMD — This occurs when an area of the retina becomes diseased. This leads to a slow breakdown of cells in the macula. The central vision is gradually lost. Dry AMD accounts for the majority of cases.
  • Wet AMD — As dry AMD worsens, new blood vessels may begin to grow. These new blood vessels often leak blood and fluid under the macula. This can lead to permanent damage of the macular region. Wet AMD is uncommon. But, it accounts for the majority of blindness from this disease.

The cause of AMD is not known.

Are You at Risk for Macular Degeneration?

Generally risk increases with age. AMD is most commonly seen in Caucasians and in senior citizens. Other factors that may increase your chance of getting AMD include:

  • Family members with AMD
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive exposure to sunlight
  • Cardiovascular risks, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol

Signs of Macular Degeneration

In some people, AMD advances very slowly. It has little effect on their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster. It may lead to significant vision loss. Neither dry AMD nor wet AMD causes pain.

Symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty seeing details in front of you, such as faces or words in a book
  • Blurred vision that goes away in brighter light
  • A small, but growing blind spot in the middle of your field of vision
  • Straight lines (such as door frames) appear crooked or distorted


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect AMD if you are older and have had recent changes in your central vision. A specialist will look for signs of the disease. The doctor will use eye drops to dilate (enlarge) your pupils. This will allow a view of the back of the eye.

You may also be asked to view an Amsler grid. This is a pattern that looks like a checkerboard. Changes in your central vision will cause the grid to appear distorted. This is a sign of AMD.

Macular Degeneration Treatments

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for you. 

Treating Dry AMD

Research has suggested certain high-dose vitamins and minerals may slow the progression of the disease in some people.

Treating Wet AMD

Laser Photocoagulation

This procedure is used in some cases of wet AMD. A strong laser light beam is aimed at the new blood vessels. The beam destroys the vessels. It usually takes less than 30 minutes to complete. You may need more laser treatments. This treatment is used less often since the development of newer treatments.

Photodynamic Therapy

This procedure is a type of treatment that involves injecting a light-sensitive dye into your blood. The affected areas in the back of the eye are then hit with a special laser light. The light activates the dye to destroy certain blood vessels. It also takes less than 30 minutes. You may need to have additional treatments.

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Inhibitor

Another way to treat wet AMD is an injection of a special medication. It is called a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitor. The medicine is injected into the vitreous (fluid) in the back of the eye. It usually needs to be repeated multiple times.

Can You Prevent AMD?

There are no current guidelines to prevent AMD. For overall eye health:

  • Have regular eye exams that include dilation to closely look at the retina
  • If you smoke, talk with your doctor about how you can quit
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Consider omega-3 fatty acid supplements


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.