Age-Related Macular Degeneration Symptoms

8 sources cited
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What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an ocular disease that affects central vision (ability to see finer details). It results from damage to the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. 

The early stages of macular degeneration may present no symptoms. As a result, most people don’t realize they have it until it progresses.

There are two types of AMD:

  1. Dry AMD. Most common and accounts for about 80% of all AMD cases.
  2. Wet (neovascular) AMD. Rare but much more severe.

AMD is common among people over 50.1

What are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive disease, meaning the disease worsens over time.2 The macula helps send information from the eye’s optic nerve to the brain. If your macula is damaged, your brain cannot comprehend or read the images that your eyes see.

During the early stages of AMD, you may not realize any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, you may begin to notice a change in visual acuity. These changes will be more significant if the condition affects both eyes.

AMD progresses in three stages:

  1. Early stage. The macula is affected, but vision isn’t.
  2. Intermediate stage. Vision may get blurry or wavy.
  3. Late (advanced) stage. Loss of central vision occurs.

Symptoms of Dry AMD

Dry AMD is characterized by the gradual thinning of the macula and the formation of tiny yellow protein clumps (drusen).3 The presence of large drusen signifies more advanced AMD.

Dry AMD progresses more slowly and is less likely to result in complete vision loss or other problems.

Symptoms include:

  • Retinal damage
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • Straight lines that now appear wavy or bent
  • Blindspot near the central vision
  • Change in color perception (rare)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Loss of central vision

Symptoms of Wet AMD

Wet AMD occurs when new, abnormal blood vessels form beneath the retina.4 As a result, blood or other fluids may leak from these vessels and cause macular damage. In some cases, advanced dry AMD may become wet AMD. 

Wet AMD symptoms are similar to dry AMD symptoms. People with wet AMD lose their central vision more quickly than those with dry AMD.

Other symptoms include:

  • A dark spot in the central vision due to leaking vessels
  • Hazy vision
  • Rapidly worsening symptoms

What Causes Macular Degeneration?

AMD is more common among older people. Its exact cause is unknown. Some eye experts believe AMD has something to do with genetics. In this case, if someone in your family has AMD, your risk might be higher.

Other AMD risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Skin tone (common among light-skinned people)
  • Sex (females are at higher risk)5
  • Light eye color

How is Macular Degeneration Treated?

There’s no standard treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration. Available options aim to slow down its progression and prevent further vision loss. Your doctor will recommend a treatment based on the stage of the disease.

Currently, early-stage AMD is not treatable. An eye doctor will likely observe the disease’s progression and counsel you on how to slow it down. You may benefit from eating healthy foods, quitting smoking, and regular exercise.

If you have intermediate AMD, your doctor may recommend special dietary supplements, such as vitamins and minerals, to slow its progression. If one of your eyes is in late-stage AMD, these supplements can slow down advancement in the opposite eye.

For wet AMD, treatment options include:

  • Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF). Injected into the eye to block the creation of abnormal blood vessels. Examples include aflibercept (Eylea), bevacizumab (Avastin), and ranibizumab (Lucentis)
  • Laser therapy. Use of high-energy laser beams to destroy abnormal blood vessels.
  • Photodynamic laser therapy (PDT). A combination of injections and laser treatment.
  • Low vision aids. These are devices with special lenses and can create larger images of nearby objects. 
  • Submacular surgery and retinal translocation. These techniques have been evaluated in studies, but are not standard treatments for AMD. Newer methods are under investigation.6

When to See a Medical Professional 

AMD is not detectable during its early stage, so don’t wait for your vision to change. If you’re at risk for AMD due to family history, age, or sex, make sure to schedule regular eye exams for early detection.

If you have age-related macular degeneration, observe your eyes daily and tell your doctor if you notice any vision changes.

Diagnosis

Age-related macular degeneration is detectable during a normal eye exam. Drusen, or little yellow patches under your retina, is one of the most common early indicators of AMD. 

Your ophthalmologist may also ask you to look at an Amsler grid.7 This is a checkerboard-like pattern of straight lines. When looking, you may notice that some of the straight lines are wavy or missing. These are signs of macular degeneration.

Your ophthalmologist might also recommend optical coherence tomography (OCT). During an OCT exam, your eye doctor will use a special machine to capture ultrasound images of the inside of your eye.

Treatment

If you’re diagnosed with AMD, your doctor will recommend treatment based on the type and stage of the condition. Though there is no treatment for early-stage dry AMD, some lifestyle changes can slow its progression. These changes include maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and quitting behaviors such as smoking.

For wet AMD, your doctor will recommend the most suitable treatment based on available options. These include an injection with Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), laser therapy, or low-vision aids. These aim to slow disease progression and enhance visual acuity. 

Prevention

Studies show that non-smokers and those who maintain a proper diet have a lower risk of developing AMD.8 You can also prevent AMD by:

  • Managing your other medical conditions, if applicable
  • Taking supplements rich in vitamins, Omega-3, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Exercising regularly 
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure
  • Eating healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, leafy green vegetables and fish

Summary

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that affects central vision (ability to see finer details). It results from damage to the macula, which is responsible for central vision.

There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is more common and involves gradual macula thinning and the formation of tiny yellow protein clumps (drusen). Wet AMD is rare and involves the formation of new, abnormal blood vessels beneath the retina. It is more severe than dry AMD.

Both conditions result in retinal damage, blurry vision, blind spot, light sensitivity, and central vision loss.

AMD is not symptomatic during its early stage. If you’re at risk for AMD, scheduling regular eye exams is essential for early detection. AMD treatments aim to slow its progression.

8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Boyd K. “What Is Macular Degeneration,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 10 Feb. 2022
  2. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD),”  National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 03 May. 2018
  3. Porter D.“What Are Drusen?,” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 08 Mar. 2022
  4.  Hobbs S., Pierce K.,“Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD),”  National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 09 Jan. 2022
  5. MacLaren R. et al.,“Long-term results of submacular surgery combined with macular translocation of the retinal pigment epithelium in neovascular age-related macular degeneration,”  National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Dec. 2005
  6. Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration,” American Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF)
  7. Boyd K.,“Have AMD? Save Your Sight with an Amsler Grid,”  American Academy of Ophthalmology, 26 May 2020
  8. Carneiro A. and Andrade J.,“Nutritional and Lifestyle Interventions for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A Review,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 05 Jan 2017
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