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OBVI: Macular Degeneration

If you have a question that isn't answered below, please email the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI).

What causes Macular Degeneration?

  • The root causes of macular degeneration are still unknown. There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration, "wet" and "dry".

  • The majority of patients have the "dry" form, which involves thinning of the macular tissues and disturbances in its pigmentation.

  • The minority of patients have the "wet" form, which can involve bleeding within and beneath the retina, opaque deposits, and eventually scar tissue.

  • Different forms of macular degeneration may occur in younger patients.

  • These non-age related cases may be linked to heredity, diabetes, nutritional deficits, head injury, infection, or other factors.

  • Scientists are undertaking the basic research necessary to determine the causes of these disorders. Finding the cause is the first important step toward prevention and cure.

How is macular degeneration detected?

  • Declining vision noticed by the patient or by an ophthalmologist during a routine eye exam may be the first indicator of macular degeneration.

  • The formation of new blood vessels and exudates, or "drusen," from blood vessels in and under the macular is often the first physical sign that macular degeneration may develop.

  • In addition, the following signs may be indicative of macular problems. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should consult an ophthalmologist immediately:

  1. Straight lines appear distorted and, in some cases, the center of vision appears more distorted than the rest of the scene.

  2. A dark, blurry area or "white-out" appears in the center of vision.

  3. Color perception changes or diminishes.

  • The following are NOT known to be linked to macular degeneration: floaters (moving spots caused by debris floating in the vitreous fluid between the lens and the retina); dry eye syndromes; cataracts and cataract surgery.

Is early detection important?

  • Early detection is important because a patient destined to develop macular degeneration can sometimes be treated before symptoms appear, and this may delay or reduce the severity of the disease.

  • Furthermore, as we develop better treatments for macular degeneration, whether they are medicinal, surgical, or low vision aids, those patients diagnosed with macular degeneration can sooner benefit from them.

If I have macular degeneration in one eye, will it develop in the other?

  • Yes, this is usually the case. In the early stages, only one eye may be affected, but as the disease progresses, both eyes are usually affected.

Is there a cure for Macular Degeneration?

  • At this time there is no known cure for macular degeneration. In some cases, macular degeneration may be active and then slow down considerably, or even stop progressing for many, many years.

  • Today, there are ways to arrest macular degeneration, depending on the type and the degree of the condition. These range from nutritional intervention to laser surgery of the blood vessels (see below).

  • We also have developed low vision aids and techniques for maximizing the use of peripheral vision to help patients adapt better to their loss of central vision.

  • Educating susceptible groups about macular degeneration can enhance early detection and early treatment.

  • We advise that a patient select and eye center that specializes in macular degeneration and get opinions for treatment from retina specialists.

Is Macular Degeneration hereditary?

  • Macular degeneration appears to be hereditary in some families but not in others. Since macular degeneration affects most patients later in life, it is difficult to study successive generations in a family.

  • Recent studies of twins indicate that both genetic and non-genetic factors play important roles in age-related macular degeneration.

  • Research to determine the genes associated with hereditary macular degeneration will help lead to early detection, early intervention, and possible cures.

Does sunlight affect Macular Degeneration?

  • Yes. It has been demonstrated that the blue rays of the spectrum seem to accelerate macular degeneration more than other rays of the spectrum.

  • This means that very bright light, such as sunlight or its reflection in the ocean and desert, may worsen macular degeneration.

  • Special sunglasses that block out the blue end of the spectrum may decrease the progress of the disease. Again, more research is needed in this area.

Does smoking or second hand smoke contribute to Macular Degeneration?

  • Yes. Any type of smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke can accelerate the development of the "wet" type of macular degeneration.

What can I do to help prevent and cure Macular Degeneration?

  1. Have annual routine eye exams

  2. See your ophthalmologist without delay if you notice any decline in your vision


Last revised May 8, 2023