Macular Degeneration: Symptoms and Early Signs
Macular degeneration may go unnoticed in the early stages. Discover early signs of the disease, when to seek a diagnosis, and what to expect from the eye exam.
By Ability Central
9 October, 2023
Approximately one in 10 Americans aged 50 and older have the early form of macular degeneration. That number is expected to continue to grow as the population gets older. This article will answer your questions about early signs of a macular degeneration diagnosis, including:
- What are the early signs of macular degeneration?
- When should I see a doctor about age-related vision loss?
- What should I do to prepare for the doctor's appointment?
- What tests will a doctor run before diagnosing macular degeneration?
- What changes can I make at home to help with the reading and communication issues of age-related vision loss?
- Where can I get more information about macular degeneration?
What are the early signs of macular degeneration?
The first symptom a person with macular degeneration may notice is tiny yellow deposits in the retina called drusen. The presence of drusen may mean the eye is at risk for developing more severe age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Other early symptoms include:
- Changing vision. Eyesight may become more blurry. You may also notice changes in your ability to see colors.
- A blind spot in your central vision. Macular degeneration does not affect peripheral vision and may only affect a single eye.
Early macular degeneration may cause no symptoms. A doctor may be the first to catch the signs.
When should I see a doctor about age-related vision loss?
Eye doctors often screen for macular degeneration as you get older. The disease is most common after 50, so it is important to be aware of any changes to your vision. Schedule an eye appointment right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Changes in your central vision
- Changes in your ability to see colors
- Small yellow deposits in the retina
What should I do to prepare for the doctor's appointment?
When you make the appointment with your doctor, be prepared to answer these questions:
- Have you noticed any changes in seeing straight lines?
- Do you have blurry or dim vision?
- Do you need brighter light to see?
- Do you notice a decreased intensity of colors?
- Do you have difficulty recognizing faces?
- Do you smoke or have heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes?
If the diagnosis is AMD, be prepared to ask your doctor these questions:
- What kind of macular degeneration do I have?
- What stage is my macular degeneration in?
- What can I do to slow the progression?
- What lifestyle changes should I make?
- How can I monitor my vision at home?
- What is the best way to treat my case of macular degeneration?
What tests will a doctor run before a diagnosis of macular degeneration?
An eye doctor may run the following tests to determine if you have macular degeneration:
- Fundus autofluorescence (FAF) is a non-invasive diagnostic test involving digital photographs of the back of the eye.
- Dilated eye exams allow more light into your eye so your doctor can inspect the back of your eye more easily.
- Fundoscopy uses the body's natural fluorescence to study the retina, as damaged sections of the eye do not light up.
- Fluorescein angiography uses a contrast dye to highlight the blood vessels in the eye.
- Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) allows the eye doctor to see changes in the fibers of the optic nerve.
- Tonometry measures the pressure inside your eyes.
What changes can I make at home to help with the reading and communication issues of age-related vision loss?
Macular degeneration may cause difficulty with reading. Consider the following changes:
- Task lighting helps improve the contrast on a page. Place a lamp below eye level and direct it slightly away from you to help eliminate glare.
- Consider using a magnifier. Magnifier styles include handheld, stand, monoculars, and desktop digital. Consider moving publications and written communications to an e-reader, tablet, or desktop to allow you to increase the type size. You can also transition to audiobooks, screen readers, and other speech technology.
If you are having difficulty using your smartphone or tablet, enable the accessibility features. Ability Central offers information on a wide variety of mobile devices to meet your changing vision needs.
Where can I get more information about macular degeneration?
To learn more about macular degeneration in adults, see:
- Macular Degeneration: Seven Quick Facts You Should Know
- Macular Degeneration: First Steps After Diagnosis
- Macular Degeneration: Planning for Long-term Care
For additional information about vision-related disabilities, see Ability Central’s full library of resources.