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Macular Degeneration Symptoms and Diagnosis


Macular degeneration most commonly affects patients over 50 years of age. The symptoms of macular degeneration are quite distinct, and a trained eye care specialist can recognize them quite easily. However, as the onset of these symptoms is so gradual, many people suffering from the disease do not even notice vision loss until the disease has progressed to the advanced stages. Read on for more information on macular degeneration symptoms and diagnosis.


Although it may present with a variety of symptoms, macular degeneration often goes unnoticed by patients during the initial stages. This may be due to the fact that the stronger of the two eyes may be compensating for weaker vision in the affected eye.

Dry Macular Degeneration Symptoms

  • Common symptoms of dry macular degeneration include
  • Blurred images in the central vision
  • Dimness of vision
  • Difficulty reading or seeing objects up close
  • Distortion of lines

Occasionally, patients may notice that objects appear to be smaller or larger than they actually are. Symptoms of macular degeneration are often noticed when patients look at objects they know to have straight edges - such as the edge of a page or lines on a road - and these lines suddenly appear wavy or distorted. In rare cases, the patient may not notice any symptoms of macular degeneration; instead the condition is detected by an ophthalmologist.

Wet Macular Degeneration Symptoms

Wet macular degeneration can manifest itself through a variety of symptoms. Many of these symptoms are very similar to those experienced as a result of dry macular degeneration, though the symptoms associated with wet AMD are generally more pronounced. Central vision loss is much more significant with wet AMD, and large blind spots may begin to form.

Often with both wet and dry AMD, one eye begins to lose vision faster than the other. In this case, the difference may not be noticeable, as the other, stronger eye compensates for the loss of vision in the other. However, when vision loss becomes noticeable in both eyes, lifestyle is seriously affected.

Some patients who have lost central vision in one or both eyes begin experiencing hallucinations, as their mind attempts to make up for the loss in vision. These hallucinations can range from amusing to surprising to disturbing, but they are not a sign of mental illness. Rather, they are a sign of Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition affecting those who have lost areas in their field of vision. Very similar to the "phantom limb" phenomenon, Charles Bonnet syndrome is a mental compensation for a loss in sensational input.

What are Drusen?

Apart from decreased central vision, one of the most telling symptoms of macular degeneration is the appearance of drusen in the eye. Drusen are small yellow or off-white deposits that form either in the tissue layer underneath the retina or on the optic nerve head. Though the exact cause of macular drusen is still unknown, their appearance near the macula is one of the most common signs of macular degeneration development; drusen that develop away from the macula are typically considered safe and are not indicative of future vision impairment.

While the presence of drusen near the macula doesn't necessarily indicate macular degeneration, it does mean that the eye may be at risk. Drusen can even be present in the eye for years without impairing vision at all. Your ophthalmologist will be able to spot the presence of macular drusen and assess its significance during a regular eye examination.

Macular Degeneration Diagnosis

There are several different tests by which a qualified eye care physician can reach a macular degeneration diagnosis, each more or less useful for detecting different stages of the disease. Pupil dilation, the Amsler grid test, and fluorescein angiograms are currently the most effective ways to diagnose the disease. Read more about each type of macular degeneration test below.

Pupil Dilation

During a standard eye exam, your eye care specialist may dilate your pupils to get a fuller view of the retina and a closer examination of any possible damage or debris. The patient's eyes will be blurry for several hours after the test. A visual examination assisted by pupil dilation is one of the best ways to detect the early, or dry, form of macular degeneration. While detection of debris and decayed tissue in the eye does not necessarily mean that the patient will develop macular degeneration, the test is useful for determining whether preventative measures should be taken to defend against it. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner you can begin treatment for macular degeneration.

Amsler Grid Test

One of the easiest methods for detecting macular degeneration is the Amsler grid test. The Amsler test is merely a square grid with black lines running parallel to each other horizontally and vertically, and a black dot in the center for the patient to focus on. A person with normal vision will see the grid as it appears on the page; however, a person with wet macular degeneration will see distortion in the lines, as if the grid has been twisted or has a hole in the middle of it. Early macular degeneration diagnosis may facilitate prevention of further vision loss, or even restore vision that has been lost.

Fluorescein Angiogram

If an eye care specialist suspects a patient is suffering from wet macular degeneration, he or she may order a fluorescein angiogram test. During the procedure, a special dye is injected into the bloodstream through the arm. Within seconds, the dye travels through the body to the eye. A special camera is then used to highlight the dye, allowing the eye care professional to see if there are leaks or problems in the eye - and, if so, where the problems are. While there are currently no treatments available to completely repair the eye after the onset of macular degeneration, catching it early enough may allow medications to prevent further damage or even restore some lost vision.

Locate a Doctor

If you think you may be experiencing signs of macular degeneration, it is imperative that you seek diagnosis from a qualified eye care professional as soon as possible. Don't wait until you start experiencing vision loss to seek medical help! Locate a qualified physician to administer the appropriate macular degeneration test.

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