Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the middle part of your vision, but does not cause complete blindness.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is age-related macular degeneration?

AMD is a common condition that reduces your central vision, causing blurry or distorted regions, and gaps or dark areas. It affects an area at the back of your eye called the macular which is part of your retina and is responsible for central vision, most colour vision and fine detail.

AMD gradually gets worse but doesn’t cause total blindness – some peripheral vision always remains.

There are many forms of macular disease but AMD is the most common one. It’s the leading cause of sight loss in people over 50 years old. It’s rare in people under the age of 60, but there are other types of macular degeneration that affect younger people.

There are two types of AMD – dry AMD or wet AMD.

Dry AMD

Three in four people with AMD have dry AMD. It’s caused by a build-up of waste material in your macular which damages the cells that are responsible for sight. It develops slowly, usually over several years. There’s no treatment to stop it, but vision aids can help you.

Wet AMD

Wet AMD is when abnormal blood vessels start to grow in your macular as a result of damage to the cells. It develops quickly, sometimes over weeks or months. Treatment options are available to stop it from getting worse – the earlier it’s treated the better the outcome.

How to tell if you have age-related macular degeneration

Symptoms of AMD can affect one eye or both. It starts with a blurred or distorted area in your vision. This may develop into a gap or black patch in the middle of your sight. Other symptoms of AMD include:

  • Finding it difficult to see small print, even with glasses
  • Colours appearing faded
  • Words disappearing when you’re reading
  • Straight lines looking curvy

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for age-related macular degeneration

If you’re concerned about your eyes, you should visit your optician for an appointment with an eye specialist (an optometrist). They’ll look at the back of your eyes using a microscope and possibly imaging scans. If they suspect you have wet AMD and need to start treatment quickly, they’ll refer you to a consultant doctor specialising in eye problems (an ophthalmologist).

If your sight suddenly gets worse, you have a dark “shadow” moving across your vision and/or it’s painful, then you should go to A&E or call 111 immediately. These are potentially symptoms of other more serious conditions.

Causes of age-related macular degeneration

Risk factors of AMD include:

  • Being Caucasian
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having cardiovascular disease
  • A family history of AMD

Some research suggests that UV light from sunlight can cause damage to the retina which increases your chance of developing AMD.

Common treatments for age-related macular degeneration

Treatment for wet AMD includes:

  • Eye injections – stop most people’s vision from getting worse and improves vision in around a third of people
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) – special light is directed at the macular to destroy the abnormal blood vessels that cause wet AMD

If you’ve been diagnosed with dry AMD, there aren’t currently any treatment options to restore your vision. But there are things that can help you carry out your normal activities. These include:

  • Using magnifying glasses
  • Having brighter lighting in your home
  • Using accessible software and mobile apps to make computers and phones easier to read and use
  • Eccentric viewing training – to learn how to make the most of your remaining vision

Get in touch

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