Macular degeneration can cause severe vision loss and may become a disability if it affects someone’s ability to work.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a loss of central vision, affecting what people see in front of them but not their peripheral vision.

AMD is a common condition and a leading cause of vision loss in people aged 50 or above.

According to one study, in 2019, around 18.3 million people aged 40 or above were living with early stage AMD, and around 1.5 million with late-stage AMD, in the United States.

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AMD may be a disability if it causes a certain level of vision loss that prevents people from working.

It does not cause total blindness, but it affects central vision and can cause blurred vision, blank spots, or difficulty seeing in low lighting. Central vision loss may make it more difficult to work and perform everyday activities, such as:

  • identifying faces
  • reading
  • driving
  • doing any close-up or detail-oriented work

Currently, there is no cure for AMD, but treatments may help to slow the disease’s progression or prevent further vision loss.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides disability benefits to people it deems blind or unable to work due to a medical condition that is likely to last at least 1 year.

Learn more about AMD here.

When does the SSA consider AMD a disability?

The Social Security Act defines blindness as the following: Central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye when using a correcting lens; or visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye.

If people qualify as blind under this definition and are unable to work, they will be able to receive benefits through the following programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

To qualify for SSDI payments, the SSA defines blindness as a visual field of 20 degrees or less in the better eye or central visual acuity of 20/200 or less, lasting, or likely to last, for at least 12 months. The SSI program does not require this duration.

People may still qualify for benefits if they do not meet the SSA definition of blindness but have impaired vision or other health conditions. Certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, are all risk factors for AMD.

If vision problems or a combination of health problems prevent people from working, they may be eligible for benefits.

Learn about eye prescription numbers here.

According to the SSA, to receive SSDI benefits, people must have worked in a job where they paid social security taxes.

To receive SSI benefits due to disability and blindness, people do not need to have worked. However, they will only be eligible if their income and resources are below a certain amount.

If people can still work with vision loss, they may continue to work and receive SSDI benefits if they earn below a certain amount.

Working and paying social security taxes will earn people credits toward SSDI benefits. People who are blind can earn credits during any working years.

If people do not have enough credits from their earnings for SSDI benefits, they may be able to get benefits from a parent’s or spouse’s earnings.

People with AMD may qualify for benefits if:

  • their central visual acuity for distance is 20/200 or less while using a corrective lens
  • the visual field in their better-seeing eye is 20 degrees or less
  • a medical condition prevents them from working and is expected to last for 12 months or more or result in death

People who meet the definition of blindness will need to meet the requirements of two tests: A duration of work test, which shows how long people have worked under social security; and a recent work test, which uses a person’s age when they developed a disability.

People can apply for disability benefits online through the SSA website or by calling 1-800-772-1213 Monday–Friday.

People need to collect a range of information to support their claim, including:

  • social security number
  • date and place of birth
  • names, addresses, and phone numbers of any doctors and healthcare facilities that provide their care
  • information about prescription medication
  • medical records from doctors and healthcare facilities
  • laboratory and test results, such as eye examination results
  • summary of the work they do or have previously done and what it entails
  • copy of W-2 form or federal tax returns for the last year

People may also need to fill in forms to provide information about their medical condition and treatment and how it impacts their ability to work. Healthcare professionals involved in a person’s treatment will also provide statements about the person’s condition and ability to work.

It is a good idea to apply for disability benefits as soon as a person begins to develop a disability because the application process may take 3–6 months.

People with AMD may be able to claim disability benefits if they have long-term vision loss affecting their ability to work or a combination of health problems that prevent them from working.

A person can apply online or by phone and must provide certain information, such as medical records and supporting evidence from healthcare professionals.