The possible symptoms of macular degeneration typically depend on its stage. It can range from no symptoms to blurriness and the illusion that straight lines appear wavy.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition that damages the macula in the eye. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue found at the back of the eye. It converts light into electrical signals sent to the brain. At its center is the macula, the critical region of the retina, which processes sharp, detailed central vision and color perception.

AMD has two types: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the more common and less severe type. Wet AMD involves atypical blood vessels that can cause considerable and permanent vision loss.

AMD is a leading cause of permanent vision loss in older adults, particularly those older than 60 years. Loss of central vision results in difficulty reading, driving, and recognizing faces.

This article discusses the potential signs and symptoms that may indicate AMD.

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The symptoms of AMD depend on the type of AMD. Dry AMD, which accounts for 85–90% of AMD cases, occurs gradually. Wet AMD, which comprises about 10–15% of all AMD cases, tends to be more severe and can develop very suddenly.

Symptoms also depend on the AMD stage. There are three stages: early, intermediate, and late. Dry AMD progresses slowly and has all three stages. Wet AMD is always in the late stage.

Early stage dry AMD does not typically cause any symptoms. During a routine eye exam, the eye doctor may notice subretinal deposits of fats, proteins, and cellular waste known as drusen. In some cases, the macula may also show a change in its color.

Other possible early manifestations of AMD can include:

  • glare difficulty
  • dark and light adaptation difficulty
  • need for bright light or magnifiers to read

Learn more about the early signs of AMD.

A straight line looking crooked or wavy, known as metamorphopsia, is a warning sign for late AMD. A person with late AMD may also experience the following, whether they have dry or wet AMD:

  • blurry or fuzzy vision
  • some objects appearing smaller than they are
  • appearance of gray, dark, or empty areas in the center of the visual field
  • color vision becoming paler

AMD can occur in both eyes, but it is also possible for the condition to only affect one eye.

An eye doctor can perform a dilated fundoscopic exam to look inside the eye and examine the retina to document the presence of these AMD abnormalities:

  • drusen
  • retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) changes
  • subretinal fibrosis
  • geographic atrophy

AMD generally occurs as a result of damage to the macula due to aging. Factors that may influence its development include:

There is currently no cure for AMD, but effective injectable drugs and laser treatments can preserve useful vision. In addiiton, lifestyle and dietary changes may help slow vision loss and prevent AMD:

Research also suggests that a specific combination of nutrients can help reduce the risk of AMD for people with intermediate or late AMD. An over-the-counter formulation of these daily nutrients — known as AREDS 2 — includes:

  • 10 milligrams (mg) of lutein
  • 2 mg zeaxanthin
  • 500 mg of vitamin C
  • 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E
  • 80 mg of zinc oxide
  • 2 mg of copper as cupric oxide

Learn more about supplements for macular degeneration.

Additionally, it is advisable for a person at risk of AMD to receive regular eye examinations. Early detection can help delay the loss of vision and the progression of symptoms.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent vision loss. A person experiencing sudden changes in their vision should immediately contact their eye doctor.

Symptoms that prompt an urgent trip to the doctor include:

  • sudden worsening of vision
  • red and painful eye
  • presence of shadow or a dark “curtain” across one’s vision

A doctor can provide a variety of tests to help diagnose macular degeneration. This can include the Amsler grid. This test describes a square grid of horizontal and vertical lines. The doctor tests the eyes separately. If the lines begin to appear wavy, crooked, or absent, it may indicate early signs of macular degeneration.

Learn more about tests for macular degeneration.

AMD is an eye disease that leads to macular damage and subsequent loss of central vision. This can result in difficulty reading, seeing fine detail, driving, and other activities that require vision accuracy.

Symptoms may include blurred or distorted vision, difficulty seeing in dim light, and colors becoming less bright.

AMD is usually secondary to aging, but many other factors beyond age can increase a person’s risk. There is currently no cure, but effective injectable drug and laser treatments can preserve useful vision. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, wearing sunglasses, and eating healthy can further slow its progression.