Macular degeneration and cataracts both affect a person’s vision. Macular degeneration affects the macula, which allows the eye to see fine details. Cataracts cause a cloud at the front of the lens, preventing light from reaching the retina.

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Macular degeneration is when a person loses central vision, making fine details difficult to see – close up or far away. However, their peripheral vision remains intact and clear. It is usually associated with a person’s aging. There are 2 types of macular degeneration: dry and wet.

Cataracts cause a clouding of the lens that blocks light from getting to the retina. Cataracts develop slowly but can interfere with a person’s vision over time. It can make daily life difficult, particularly if someone reads or is driving.

Read more about the differences and similarities between the two conditions.

Although both conditions affect a person’s vision, there are some differences between them. These include:

  • Part of the eye affected: Cataracts clouds the front of the lens, preventing light from reaching the retina, whereas macular degeneration affects the macula, the central part of the retina that allows the eye to see fine details.
  • Reversibility: Cataract surgery can reverse the effects of cataracts by replacing a person’s cloudy lens with an artificial one. Although there is no cure to reverse the effects of macular degeneration, a person can slow down the decline of their vision through treatments such as anti-VEGF injections and laser surgery.
  • Symptoms: Although the two conditions share similar symptoms, the main difference is that macular degeneration causes dark areas to appear in the center of a person’s vision.

Differences in symptoms

Macular degenerationCataracts
The distorted shape of objectsSensitivity to light and glare
Dark spots in a person’s central visionNeed for brighter light for reading and other activities
Straight lines looking wavyDouble vision in a single eye
White spots in a person’s central visionSeeing halos around light
Macular Degeneration Cataracts
Difficulty eating a balanced nutritionInjury to eye tissue
Lack of exercisePast eye surgery
High blood pressureLong-term steroid use

Both conditions share similarities in causes, risk factors and symptoms.


Both conditions share the following symptoms:

  • cloudy or blurred vision
  • frequent changes in lens prescriptions
  • increasing difficulty with vision at night
  • loss of clear color vision

Causes and risk factors

Aging is the primary reason a person develops cataracts and macular degeneration. Other lifestyle causes that may lead to the development of both conditions are:

  • smoking
  • sun exposure
  • genetics
  • caucasian women are among the highest population to contract both conditions

Both optometrists and ophthalmologists, specialists in eye care, can detect both conditions so they may detect both conditions in one appointment.

There are some similarities between the conditions, but through different tests, they can target which condition affects the eye.

Macular degeneration diagnosis

Either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist will conduct an eye exam followed by a screening test called an Amsler Grid to detect macular degeneration early and provide a suitable diagnosis. The grid helps people spot any blank or dark spots within their vision.

As the person takes the Amsler Grid screening, the eye specialist can look into a person’s eye to see if there are any changes in the retina using a special lens.

Another option is Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT is noninvasive and uses light waves to make a cross-section and clear image of a person’s retina. An ophthalmologist can see the layers of the retina, which helps to measure their thickness. These measurements help with diagnosis.

Cataracts diagnosis

Several test options can help diagnose a person with cataracts. These include:

  • Visual acuity test: This eye chart measures how well a person can read the letters to determine visual clarity and sharpness of vision. A person has one eye covered at a time to view progressively smaller letters throughout the test.
  • Slit-lamp examination: This is the most common device to examine the cornea. It involves a microscope, called a slit lamp, which uses an intense form of light that shines through a slit that an optometrist or ophthalmologist uses to look into a person’s eye.
  • Retinal exam: An optometrist or ophthalmologist will put eye drops in a person’s eyes to dilate the pupils. They then use an ophthalmoscope to look inside a person’s eye for signs of cataracts.
  • Applanation tonometry: This test measures the fluid pressure in a person’s eye using a flat-tipped cone that gently comes into contact with a person’s cornea. The test measures the force needed to temporarily flatten part of a person’s cornea with the cone.

There are some clear differences in how doctors treat both conditions.

Macular degeneration treatment

People with dry macular degeneration may find that the following supplements can help them with symptoms such as vision loss:

Read more about supplements for macular degeneration.

This 2022 study corroborates this, as they confirmed the benefits of supplements in slowing down macular degeneration.

Doctors usually prescribe anti-VEGF medication for people with wet macular degeneration. They administer this through an injection to the eye which blocks the growth of new blood vessels.

Nutritionists may recommend eye-healthy foods to help slow down the condition and aid symptoms, including:

Read more about the treatments for macular degeneration.

Cataracts treatment

The only effective treatment for cataracts is cataract surgery. During surgery, doctors remove a person’s cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens, called an intraocular lens. Surgery is usually quick, and the healing time is minimal afterward.

Unlike macular degeneration, a 2020 study found that clinical trials demonstrated the beneficial effects of vitamin C supplementation on cataract incidence, except in cases where people may have had low vitamin C levels.

Treatment for both

If a person has both conditions, an ophthalmologist will have to determine which condition is predominantly affecting a person’s vision before performing cataract surgery.

Despite some concerns that cataract surgery can worsen macular degeneration symptoms, this 2021 article states that studies have found no link between cataract surgery and the development of macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is an eye condition that affects the retina and a person’s central vision. The most common symptoms are black spots in a person’s central vision, difficulty seeing details and straight lines appearing wavy.

Cataracts affect a person’s lens by clouding it and not allowing light to get through to the retina. Common symptoms include seeing halos around light, sensitivity to light, and cloudiness of vision.

There are several differences between the two conditions. Currently, macular degeneration has no cure, but symptoms can improve through medication, supplements and lifestyle changes. Doctors can reverse cataracts through surgery.