Drusen are deposits of fats, proteins, and cellular waste that build up under the retina. While drusen do not cause macular degeneration, they increase the risk of a person developing the condition.

The retina is a layer of cells that line the back wall inside the eye. It detects light and transmits this information to the brain for vision to occur.

A component of the retina is the macula, which controls sharp central vision. It allows people to see what is in front of them, such as faces and written words.

When the macula becomes thinner, and drusen accumulate under the retina, it increases the risk of a person developing age-related macular degeneration and is a likely sign of the condition. This condition is the leading cause of vision problems in people over 55.

This article will explore drusen and how it affects vision, the causes and risk factors for drusen deposits, and macular degeneration.

It will also explore symptoms, how a doctor diagnoses drusen deposits, and what treatment options are available.

Drusen, or drusen bodies, are deposits of fats, proteins, and cellular waste. They have a small, yellow appearance.

Drusen vary in size and number. They include:

  • hard drusen, which are small, round, and well-defined deposits
  • soft drusen, which are larger, poorly defined, and have mound-like elevations
  • cuticular drusen, which are identical to hard drusen but more numerous and frequently aggregate together to form larger drusen deposits


Drusen deposits do not typically cause symptoms. A person may experience symptoms if they have macular degeneration, such as:

  • blurry vision
  • difficulty in vision when going from bright to low light
  • a blank and blurry spot in their central vision

Macular degeneration occurs when there is damage to the macula. This condition causes loss of central vision, but the peripheral vision is left unaffected.

There are two types of macular degeneration:

  • Dry: This type of macular degeneration accounts for 80% of cases. The macula becomes thinner over time, and drusen deposits grow under the retina, causing a person to slowly lose their central vision.
  • Wet: In wet macular degeneration, new abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. The vessels may leak fluids, such as blood, and cause macula scarring.

A person will lose vision faster with wet macular degeneration than with the dry type.

Learn more about wet vs. dry macular degeneration here.

The location of the drusen also determines the risk to vision. For example, there is a greater risk of macular degeneration if drusen deposits are in the macula or the central region of the retina compared to the peripheral retina.

Hard drusen may not cause any visual problems in a person. However, larger soft drusen may cause vision problems and the presence of more drusen. The risk of progression to macular degeneration is lower when fewer drusen are present.

Researchers believe that larger drusen deposits block nutrient and waste exchange between the blood vessels and the retina. This blockage can lead to the deterioration and wasting of the retina.

Drusen in dry macular degeneration can cause loss of central vision and may make it more difficult for a person to see fine details.

Learn more about macular degeneration and edema here.

The risk of developing macular degeneration increases depending on the features of the drusen, such as :

  • size
  • number
  • location
  • type

Other risk factors include:

A person will normally find out if they have drusen during a routine eye exam carried out by an ophthalmologist — an eye doctor specializing in vision and eye health.

If the ophthalmologist finds larger drusen, they may ask a person to look at an Amsler grid. This grid helps a person identify any blurry or blank spots in their field of vision.

The doctor may also request additional tests such as optical coherence tomography (OCT), which scans the retina and provides a detailed image.

A fluorescence angiography involves injecting a yellow dye into the body that travels to the eye and shows any abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina.

Learn how doctors diagnose macular degeneration here.

There is currently no treatment for dry macular degeneration.

The National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), which looked at the use of supplements for macular degeneration and other eye conditions.

Supplements may help people with advanced stages of macular degeneration.

The first AREDS study supported the use of the following supplements:

The AREDS2 study used the same formula but replaced beta carotene with other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Overall, there were no differences in results between the AREDS and AREDS2 studies.

A 2015 review found that laser treatment reduced the number of drusen present. However, it notes that laser treatment did not reduce the risk of macular degeneration or prevent the loss of visual acuity.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology also notes that laser treatment does not significantly reduce the rate of progression or severity of AMD.

A person with wet macular degeneration may receive anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs. These drugs help lower the number of abnormal blood vessels appearing in the retina. They may also benefit from laser surgery which may reduce the number of blood vessels and slow the leaking.

Learn whether macular degeneration is reversible here.

Drusen deposits occur naturally with aging, and a person cannot prevent them from developing.

However, a person can slow the progression of macular degeneration by regularly visiting their eye doctor and making lifestyle changes. For example, a person can reduce their risk of developing macular degeneration by:

  • eating foods such as green leafy vegetables and fish
  • regularly exercising
  • quitting smoking
  • maintaining moderate blood pressure levels

Learn whether taking supplements can prevent or slow down macular degeneration here.

Drusen deposits do not cause symptoms in a person. However, macular degeneration may cause blurry vision and blank and blurry spots in a person’s central vision.

A person will need to see an eye doctor who can determine if they have drusen deposits or advanced stages of macular degeneration.

A person is not able to prevent drusen from forming under the retina. However, a person can reduce their likelihood of progressing to the advanced stage of macular degeneration by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, and consuming certain supplements.