Drusen are small yellow deposits that can form under the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. These deposits are a natural part of aging.

The retina contains light-sensitive cells called photoreceptors that capture incoming light and send signals to the brain to create vision.

When drusen appear in the eye, they can affect a person’s vision and potentially lead to serious eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

This article explains what drusen are, why they form, and how to treat or manage them if necessary.

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Drusen are small deposits of fats, proteins, and other waste materials that accumulate between the layers of the retinal pigment epithelium and the inner layer of the Bruch membrane.

Drusen can vary in size and shape, ranging from small, hard drusen to larger, soft drusen.

Hard drusen typically occur in people over age 50 and are usually not a cause for concern. However, they may be a concern if they are large or numerous.

Soft drusen can be a sign of AMD, a leading cause of vision loss in older adults.

Most people with drusen do not have any noticeable symptoms.

If a person develops AMD due to drusen, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • hazy vision
  • blurred or distorted vision
  • light sensitivity
  • blank spots
  • metamorphopsia (lines that appear wavy)

AMD is a progressive condition that can worsen over time.

People with symptoms of AMD should seek immediate prompt medical attention to prevent further vision loss and discuss treatment options with an eye care professional.

The exact cause of drusen formation is not fully understood, but researchers believe they are a natural response to aging.

Other factors that may contribute to the formation of drusen include:

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), white people are more likely to develop drusen and AMD.

Small drusen do not require treatment. If a person has small drusen, their ophthalmologist may recommend regular monitoring to ensure they do not progress or become larger.

Larger drusen, especially soft drusen, are a sign of AMD and may require additional intervention.

Treatment options are available for wet AMD, a type of AMD in which blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood or other fluids. These include:

There are some medications to treat a subtype of dry AMD called geographic atrophy.

Learn whether macular degeneration is reversible with treatment.

People who notice changes in their vision should contact an eye care professional. Drusen may not always cause noticeable symptoms, but blurry vision, distorted vision, or blank spots are potential signs of drusen-related AMD and should not be ignored.

The AAO recommends adults ages 65 and older have regular eye exams every 1–2 years regardless of symptoms or vision changes.

The outlook depends on the type and severity of the drusen.

For people with small, hard drusen, the outlook is generally good. These small drusen typically do not cause significant vision loss and may not progress to more advanced stages of AMD.

However, numerous hard drusen and larger, soft drusen can be a sign of AMD. If untreated, AMD can progress and lead to severe vision loss.

Below, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about drusen.

Should I be worried about drusen?

Whether or not a person should be worried about drusen depends on the type and severity of the drusen.

Small, hard drusen are not usually a cause for concern and typically do not require treatment. However, larger, soft drusen can be a sign of AMD and may require further evaluation and treatment by an eye care professional. The number of drusen can also increase the risk of AMD.

Does having drusen mean you will get macular degeneration?

No, having drusen does not mean a person will get macular degeneration. However, it is a risk factor for the condition.

Drusen are small yellow or white deposits that can build up under the retina.

Drusen are a risk factor for macular degeneration, but they do not necessarily mean a person will develop the condition.

There is no cure for macular degeneration, but there are treatments available that can slow the progression of the condition and help preserve vision.