Macular Degeneration: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

The macula is the center of the retina of the eye that is responsible for central vision. Damage to this area is known as macular degeneration. Macular degeneration occurs in two forms. In dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down. The reduced function of the macula causes central vision loss. "Wet" age-related macular degeneration is less common but more aggressive in its progression to severe central vision loss. "Dry" age-related macular degeneration is the more common type and is more slowly progressive.

Early symptoms of dry AMD can include slightly blurry vision, the need for more light for reading, and difficulty recognizing faces unless you are very close to the person. The presence of a blurred spot in the center of vision signifies a more advanced form of the disease. An early symptom of wet AMD is the wavy appearance of straight lines. There is no pain associated with macular degeneration. It may affect one or both eyes.

Causes of macular degeneration

In dry AMD, there is progressive loss of the cells of the macula. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under and into the macular portion of the retina.

The exact cause is not well understood, but the main risk factor is advancing age. Other factors that increase the risk of macular degeneration include smoking, obesity, female gender, white race, a family history of the condition, a diet low in fruit and vegetables, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol levels.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/27/2017

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