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Age-Related Macular Degeneration


Topic Overview

The eye (cross section)

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is a disease that causes blurring of your central vision. The blurring happens because of damage to the macula, a small area at the back of the eyeClick here to see an illustration.. The macula helps you see the fine detail in things that your eyes are focusing on.

Macular degeneration makes it harder to do things that require sharp central vision, like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. It does not affect side vision, so it does not lead to complete blindness.

There are two types of macular degeneration—wet and dry. The dry form is by far the most common type. The wet form is much less common, but it happens more quickly and is more severe.

You may have either type in just one eye, but over time you may get it in the other eye too.

What causes macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is the result of damage to the nerve cells in the macula. The process that leads to this damage is different for each type.

  • The dry form is a gradual process. As you age, the cells in the macula start to thin and break down, and waste deposits build up in the back of the eye. Over time, this damages the macula.
  • The wet form happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye. These blood vessels break easily and leak blood and fluid under the macula. This can quickly damage the macula and distort your central vision.

Experts are still studying the causes of both forms.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of macular degeneration is dim or fuzzy central vision. Objects may look warped or smaller than they really are. You may have a blank or blind spot in the center of your field of vision. As the disease gets worse, you may have trouble with tasks like reading and driving.

If you have the dry form, your vision will probably become blurry slowly. You may have it for several years before it affects your ability to read, drive, and do everyday activities.

Often the first symptom of the wet form is that straight lines look wavy or curved. In the wet form, vision loss happens quickly and can be severe.

How is macular degeneration diagnosed?

A doctor can usually detect macular degeneration by doing a regular eye exam and asking questions about your past health. You may have some vision tests, including an ophthalmoscopy. This test lets your doctor look at the inside of your eye and check for possible signs of this disease, such as drusen. These are yellowish white waste deposits that can build up at the back of the eye.

How is it treated?

At this time, there is no cure for macular degeneration. But experts are exploring many new treatments that hold hope for the future. Your doctor can keep you up to date on any changes in treatment that might help you.

Eating food that contains lots of antioxidant vitamins and minerals may help slow down vision loss in some people with moderate to severe macular degeneration.1 Talk to your doctor about whether this might help you.

These treatments may slow down vision loss from the wet form of macular degeneration:

  • Injections of medicine into your eye.
  • Laser surgery.
  • Photodynamic therapy.

How can you cope with vision problems?

There are many things you can do at home to make the most of your remaining vision. Try using aids like magnifying glasses, brighter lighting, and large-print books. Having a good support network is important too.

If you need more help, your doctor may refer you to an occupational therapist or rehabilitation specialist. These professionals can help you get the tools and training you need to cope with reduced vision. Local agencies may also offer services for people who have vision loss.

It can be scary to find out that you have a vision problem that may get worse. It is common to have a range of emotions. But if you feel very sad or hopeless, talk to your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about age-related macular degeneration (AMD):

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