How to Tell if You Have Macular Degeneration
Could macular degeneration be the reason you're having trouble seeing? The eye disease causes changes to your central vision and affects almost 20 million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
What Is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because it most often occurs in people 40 and older. AMD affects the macula, the center part of the retina. The retina plays a very important role in vision and is responsible for sending electrical signals from the eye to the brain. Damage to the cells in the macula makes it harder to use your central vision.
Both the "wet" and "dry" forms of AMD can cause vision problems. The more common dry form happens when macular cells thin and clumps of a yellow protein called drusen form on the macula. As the cells in the macula break down and die, permanent central vision loss can occur.
The wet form of AMD is caused by new, abnormal blood vessels that leak blood or fluid. The leaking vessels cloud your vision and can be a factor in the formation of scar tissue that worsens central vision loss.
Injections and laser treatments are available to seal the leaking blood vessels and decrease abnormal blood vessels if you have the wet form of AMD. Although there is currently no treatment for the dry type of AMD, your eye doctor may recommend taking special supplements that could slow the progression of the disease. The supplements contain vitamins C and E, copper, zinc, lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients essential for good eye health.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
It's not always clear why people get macular degeneration, although several factors seem to increase your risk of developing the disease. According to the American Optometric Association, your risk may be higher if you smoke, don't exercise often, have family members with AMD, or don't eat a healthy diet. Other risk factors include obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and sun exposure.
How Will I Know if I Have Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration doesn't usually cause any noticeable changes to your vision at first. Although you can't tell anything is wrong, your optometrist can spot changes in your macula when your eyes are dilated. If you don't visit the eye doctor every year, you may not be aware that you have macular degeneration until you begin to notice these vision changes:
- Blurriness. AMD may cause blurry central vision. If your peripheral (side) vision is much clearer than your central vision, AMD might be to blame.
- Blind Spot. As AMD worsens, a blind or dark spot could develop in the middle of your visual field.
- Difficulty with Everyday Tasks. AMD makes it difficult to do many things, from reading to driving to watching TV. Since the disease also affects your eye's ability to adjust to different light levels, you may need brighter lights to see the words on a page or notice that it takes longer for your eyes to adapt when you walk between dark and light rooms in your home. Glare may also make it harder to see.
- No More Straight Edges. Changes in the macula can affect the way sharp, straight lines look to you. Seeing wavy or distorted lines indicates that something isn't quite right with your vision.
The Amsler Grid: A Simple Way to Monitor Your Central Vision
If you're at risk for developing AMD, or you already have the disease, your eye doctor may recommend that you look at the Amsler Grid every day to monitor your symptoms. The grid features intersecting horizontal and vertical lines with a black dot in the center. Viewing the grid makes it easier to spot changes in your vision, like blank or blurry spots or wavy lines.
The grid is best viewed at a distance of 12 to 15 inches from your eyes, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. All of the lines should be straight and crisp when you look at the grid. If any of the lines are blurry, hazy or wavy, or there's a blank spot, contact your optometrist right away. Be sure to also let your eye doctor know if you already have AMD and notice that your symptoms are worse.
Do you need a copy of the Amsler Grid? Print a free grid from the American Macular Degeneration Foundation website.
Worried about changes in your vision? Contact our office to schedule an appointment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), 10/31/2022
American Optometric Association: Macular Degeneration
American Academy of Ophthalmology: Have AMD? Save Your Sight with an Amsler Grid, 5/26/2020
American Macular Degeneration Foundation: Amsler's Chart To Test Your Sight