Age-Related Macular Degeneration

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

The leading cause of vision loss in people over 50, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the eventual degeneration (deterioration) of the macula (light-sensitive tissue in the retina).


Cells in the pigmented layer of the retina (retinal pigment epithelium) become thin over time with dry AMD. This atrophy is very slow and eventually causes rods and cones to die. Dry AMD is the most common form of AMD.


Cells become thinner and fragile blood vessels develop in the choroid (vascular layer of the eye) and leak fluid and blood and cause scarring with wet AMD. In rare instances, vision loss may be sudden. Wet AMD occurs over a much shorter period of time.

The condition affects the part of the eye responsible for clarifying the finer details of what’s being viewed — important for activities like driving and reading.

What are the Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration?

If lines appear distorted on a special piece of paper, it’s usually an indication of AMD. An ocular coherence tomography test involves the use of special light rays.

Symptoms include

  • Difficulty recognizing objects
  • Blurriness
  • Difficulty adjusting to light levels
  • Reduced central vision
  • Distortions of vision

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Causes

As an individual ages, part of the retina, the macula, degenerates. The light sensitive cells, rods, and cones in the macula begin to break down gradually. Furthermore, debris and waste products begin to build up in your retina, forming deposits known as drusen. As drusen deposits continue to enlarge and one loses light-sensitive cells in their retina, their central vision deteriorates. Blurred spots begin to obscure their view, and they may require more lighting to see fine details. This is the primary cause of dry AMD.

The eye’s vascular system, in a bid to get rid of the drusen, may begin to grow under the macula. When the blood vessels form in the wrong areas, they may leak fluid into the eye causing damage and scarring to the macula. This creates blank spots and distorted vision, a feature of wet AMD.

How is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treated?

A fluorescein angiography is the test used to diagnose wet AMD by injecting a vein in the arm with dye to look for leaks in the eye.

Low vision rehabilitation may help improve eye health, but there is no specific treatment to halt the progression of dry AMD. Treatment with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medications and photo-dynamic therapy (use of medication and light to safely destroy abnormal blood vessels) for wet AMD sometimes stops or slows progression.

AMD is caused by a lack of sufficient nutrients delivered to rods and cones by RPE cells and the accumulation of waste materials below the retina. It’s not known what triggers the development of new blood vessels in wet AMD. Risk factors may include smoking, a family history of macular degeneration, and exposure to sunlight. Getting regular eye exams can allow for early detection.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Prevention

The adage goes as, what you sow in your youth, you reap in your sunset years. The first thing is to avoid smoking and drinking excessive alcohol. Research purports that individuals in this group are at a higher risk of developing severe AMD as early as the age of 55 years.

Secondly, maintain a healthy weight and lead a healthy lifestyle. Apart from exercise, eat lots of leafy greens, and drink lots of water. Moreover, avoid complex carbohydrates and processed meat. Opt for whole grains and lean meat instead. Exercise regimes should include at least thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise, to get blood flowing properly in the entire body.

Regular medical check ups are also a preventative measure. This ensures that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are healthy, as individuals with these conditions are a risk group. Medical check ups will also guarantee that your eyes are healthy as well.

Lastly, wear sunglasses that block UV light that may cause eye damage.


Last Reviewed:
September 30, 2016
Last Updated:
November 03, 2017
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