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    Macular Degeneration

    Illustration of a clock face as seen by a person with Age-Related Macular Degeneration

    With AMD, dark areas may appear in your central vision.

    What is Macular Degeneration?

    Macular degeneration is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly and perform activities such as reading and driving. When the macula does not function correctly, your central vision can be affected by blurriness, dark areas or distortion. Although macular degeneration reduces vision in the central part of the retina, it usually does not affect the eye’s side, or peripheral, vision.

    Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. Exactly why it develops is not known, and no treatment has been uniformly effective. There are other kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

    The two most common types of AMD are:

    1. “Dry” macular degeneration – caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula, this is the form of AMD most people have. Vision loss is usually gradual.
    2. “Wet” macular degeneration – caused by abnormal blood vessels forming underneath the retina. These blood vessels can leak blood or fluid and cause blurred central vision. Vision loss may be rapid and severe.

    Signs to Look For

    Macular degeneration can cause different symptoms in different people. Sometimes only one eye loses vision while the other eye continues to see well for many years.

    Vision loss is commonly detected from:

    • Blurry distance and/or reading vision;
    • Distorted vision -- straight lines will appear bent, crooked or irregular;
    • Dark gray spots or blank spots in your central vision;
    • Size of objects may appear different for each eye; or
    • Colors do not look the same for each eye.

    Preventative Measures

    Many people do not realize they have a macular problem until their blurred or distorted vision becomes obvious. Regular eye examinations by an ophthalmologist may help to detect problems before you are even aware of them.

    Treatment Options

    Unfortunately at this time there is no single proven treatment for the dry form of AMD. However, a scientific study has shown that antioxidant vitamins and zinc may reduce the impact of AMD in some people by slowing its progression toward more advanced stages.

    If you have been diagnosed with dry AMD, you should use a chart called an Amsler Grid every day to monitor your vision, as dry AMD can change into the more damaging wet form.

    Certain types of “wet” macular degeneration can be treated with laser surgery by stopping the leaking of blood vessels that damage the macula.

    Another form of treatment for wet AMD targets a specific chemical in your body that is critical in causing abnormal blood vessels to grow under the retina. That chemical is called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Anti-VEGF drugs block the trouble-causing VEGF, reducing the growth of abnormal blood vessels and slowing their leakage.

    To help you adapt to lower vision levels, your ophthalmologist can prescribe optical devices or refer you to a low-vision specialist or center. A wide range of support services and rehabilitation programs are also available to help people with macular degeneration. See Low Vision for more information.