An eye doctor can pick up early signs of macular degeneration during a routine examination. Diagnostic measures also include imaging scans that use light waves and injections of dye into the eye.

Macular degeneration is a condition that affects central vision over time. It tends to occur in people over age 60 years old. There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet.

The condition occurs when there are changes in the macula, a section of the retina that controls central vision.

This article overviews the tests used to diagnose macular degeneration, when to contact a doctor, managing the condition after diagnosis, and prevention.

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It is often difficult to notice macular degeneration in the early stages because the condition may not cause pain or other symptoms. For this reason, it is particularly important to attend regular eye examinations, so an eye doctor can make a diagnosis before symptoms begin.

An eye doctor may use several tests when performing a comprehensive eye examination. Assessing a person’s medical history is an important stage of an eye examination, as this can provide clues about the presence of macular degeneration.

Tests for dry macular degeneration include:

Eye doctors only use autofluorescence to test for dry macular degeneration. FFA, ICGA, and OCT are diagnostic methods used to test for both types of macular degeneration.

Autofluorescence is a noninvasive test that shows the retina in autofluorescent photos. An eye doctor will use UV light to assess the affected area of the eye.

The fluorescence creates a border that eye professionals can use to measure the decrease in the RPE. Hypofluorescence shows up in any areas where that RPE is missing.

FFA is an invasive technique that involves injecting fluorescein dye into the veins. The dye travels up to the eye, and an eye care professional captures images with a fundus camera.

The images enable an eye care professional to assess for leaking blood vessels while they analyze the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of circulation in the retinal and choroidal parts of the eye.

FFA is particularly useful if there is evidence of a need to clear loose subretinal fluid from wet macular degeneration.

IGCA looks at drusen, which are deposits that form under the retina.

Similarly to FFA, ICGA involves using dye and imaging techniques to observe hard and soft drusen, which can be a risk factor for macular degeneration.

OCT is a noninvasive technique that doctors can easily use to detect macular degeneration in most people. It is currently one of the most important tools in diagnosing macular degeneration. It can enable an eye care professional to identify lesions by assessing their location below or above the RPE.

Although OCT is a helpful method, other methods are still necessary to conduct a comprehensive eye examination.

It is also important to note that OCT is not a substitute for the classic FFA technique when differentiating between wet and dry macular degeneration.

The Amsler grid is a simple test that involves looking at a grid with a black dot in the center. When staring at the dot, the lines of the grid may either disappear or become wavy, which could be a sign of macular degeneration.

It is possible to try out this test at home. However, an at-home test cannot replace the expertise of an eye care professional.

Regular eye examinations will increase the chances of identifying macular degeneration during the early stages. This maximizes the chances of treating the condition effectively.

In the early stages of macular degeneration, the center of the field of vision becomes blurry when looking at objects that are close and far away. It may also become difficult to notice finer details and contrasts in color, and blind spots may develop.

Early signs of wet macular degeneration can also include distortion of lines, in which straight lines appear wavy.

A person should be aware of the signs and symptoms of macular degeneration and contact a doctor if any appear. These include:

  • smudges or distortion to the center of the visual field
  • difficulty distinguishing between slight contrasts or textures
  • difficulty adjusting to changes in light levels
  • a need for higher light levels
  • a lack of depth perception

Treatment depends on the form of the condition.

Dietary supplements are a potential treatment option that may help with dry macular degeneration.

For example, the National Eye Institute conducted the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), which indicated that a person might be able to dramatically reduce the risk of advanced stages of macular degeneration.

The AREDS2 study modified the original supplement formula of the first AREDS study, which was:

The second study replaced beta carotene with other carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin.

Dietary supplements of certain antioxidants and minerals may effectively manage macular degeneration, though experts must conduct more research to confirm this.

Additional treatment options for wet macular degeneration may include anti-VEGF injections.

A possible prevention method for all stages is eliminating risk factors. One example would be smoking cessation, as smoking increases the progression of macular degeneration.

Diagnosing macular degeneration involves a comprehensive eye examination that can include multiple tests. An eye care professional may use several techniques in diagnosis. Key tests include autofluorescence, FFA, ICGA, and OCT.

Regular eye examinations are key in diagnosis, as the condition typically begins without pain or other clear symptoms. An early diagnosis reduces the risk of the condition becoming severe.