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Macular degeneration

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a chronic painless eye disease that causes central vision loss, and is more common as you get older.
  • You may have no symptoms or you may have difficulty reading and seeing faces clearly, with dark patches in your central vision.
  • Early detection of AMD increases the chance that your doctor can treat you, and can help prevent further loss of vision.
  • You should have regular eye exams, especially if someone in your family has AMD.

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What is AMD?

AMD is a chronic, painless eye disease associated with ageing that causes you to lose central vision. It is caused by damage to the cells in the central region (macula) of the back of your eye (the retina).

AMD causes blurred vision and loss of vision in the middle of what you would normally see. You may find it hard to drive, to read and to see people’s faces. In severe cases you may become legally blind.

There are two main types of AMD:

  • Dry — develops slowly and causes gradual vision loss. It is caused by the gradual loss of cells in your retina. It is the most common kind.
  • Wet — leads to rapid loss of central vision. It happens when abnormal blood vessels grow into your macula and leak blood and fluid. This is the most serious kind.

AMD is more common when you’re aged 50 or older.

The earlier you’re diagnosed with AMD the better. You should never assume that vision changes are just a part of getting older. See an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible if you notice any changes to your vision.

What are the symptoms of AMD?

At first, you may not notice any symptoms of AMD. That’s why regular eye tests are essential, even if you don’t notice any change in your vision.

Common symptoms include:

  • gradual or sudden worsening in your ability to see things clearly
  • difficulty reading despite wearing glasses
  • distortion, with wavy lines that appear bent
  • dark patches in the centre of your vision
  • difficulty seeing faces clearly
  • needing brighter light to read
  • decreased night vision and colour vision

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes macular degeneration?

The cause of macular degeneration is not known, but it is more common in people who smoke. Your risk increases the older you get, and is higher for people who have close family members with the condition. If your parent or sibling have AMD, you have a 50% risk of getting it.

How is AMD diagnosed?

An optometrist or ophthalmologist will check your vision and examine the back of your eyes using a special instrument. You may need special tests such as an angiogram of your eyes or optical coherence tomography (OCT).

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How is AMD treated?

There is no cure for AMD, but there are highly effective treatments for wet AMD. Regular injections (at first monthly, later up to 3-monthly) of medications called anti-VEGF medications into your eye can prevent further loss of your eyesight, so you can maintain independence for as long as possible.

There are no treatments for dry macular degeneration but healthy diet and regular exercise can slow progression of disease and some eye specialists recommend certain vitamin supplements.

For more information on nutrition for eye health, visit the Macular Disease Foundation website.

Your doctor can show you how to monitor your vision in each eye using an Amsler grid.

How can I prevent AMD?

Have regular eye exams, including a check of the macula to reduce your risk of developing AMD. This is especially important if you have a family history of AMD.

Medicare subsidises eye tests provided by optometrists for all Australian permanent residents. You don’t need a doctor’s referral to see an optometrist for eye tests.

You may be able to reduce your risk of developing AMD or stop the vision loss from progressing with lifestyle choices such as:

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Last reviewed: July 2022

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