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How to Tell If You Have Macular Degeneration

How to Tell If You Have Macular Degeneration


You can tell if you have macular degeneration with the Amsler grid test. It is free, can be done anywhere, is easy to perform, and is often recommended to monitor vision changes.

Macular degeneration affects the eye’s macula, and while there is no pain involved, it results in the death of cells in that area destroying an individual’s sharp, central vision. At times, it is not often clear to tell if you have macular degeneration.  It often progresses slowly with such subtle changes to the vision that they often go unnoticed. As a preventive measure, routine, comprehensive eye examinations are the best way of diagnosing macular degeneration in its early stages.  [1]

Home Test for Macular Degeneration

Because macular degeneration affects the central vision, eyesight in one may become slightly distorted.  Parallel lines may appear wavy or broken or there may be a blind or blurry spot in the center of your vision. The Amsler grid test can be done anywhere, is easy to perform, and often recommended to monitor vision changes.  Though not as accurate as the one given by your eye doctor, this simple home test can alert you to early symptoms.

The Macular Degeneration Partnership at offers a version of the test with detailed instructions that you can either use online, or download to print.

Early Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

These are some the changes that you may experience if you have macular degeneration.

  • The need for increasingly bright light when performing close work or when reading.
  • Difficulty adjusting to a low level of light; for example, when entering a dimly lit club.
  • Increase in the blurriness of printed material and a decrease in the brightness or intensity of colors.
  • Recognizing faces becomes difficult, and haziness in overall vision increases gradually.
  • A “blind spot” may appear in the center of the field of vision, along with a significant drop in the sharpness of central vision.

Note that while the vision in one eye may deteriorate, the other eye may continue to function normally for years. Because the good eye is compensating for the weak on, it may make it even more difficult to tell if you have macular degeneration. Unfortunately, when macular degeneration develops in both eyes, vision and lifestyle may be dramatically affected.

As the loss of vision worsens, some patients may even experience visual hallucinations, such as geometric figures, animals, or unusual patterns, known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

Consider Your Risk Factors

Are you at risk for developing age-related macular degeneration?  Certain unalterable factors may put you at an increased risk for developing the disease, as well as certain lifestyle habits. Weigh these risk factors.

You are over age 40. Regular eye exams are critical after the age of 40.  Two percent of Americans have developed intermediate AMD between the ages of 40-49.  As an age-related disease, this percentage increases as age increases with more than 23% of people over 80 developing the disease. [2]

A family member has AMD. You are twice as likely to develop AMD if you have an immediate family member with the disease.  Two family members increases your risk four-fold. [3]

You are a woman. Women have a higher incidence of AMD than men do.  This may be due to the fact that it is an age-related disease, and women live longer than men. [4]

You are Caucasian.  Though the reasons are not yet clear to scientists, Caucasians are more likely to develop AMD than any other race. [5]

You are a current or former smoker.  Tobacco smoke is the primary preventable exposure associated with any form of AMD. [6] Smoking increases your risk for developing AMD two to five times.  The risk of developing late-onset age-related macular degeneration remains elevated for up to twenty years after you quit.  [7]



[1] National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health
Macular Degeneration: MedlinePlus

[2] National Eye Institute US National Institutes of Health
Prevalence of Blindness Data

[3][4][7] American Federation for Aging Research
Age-related Macular Degeneration

[5] Mayo Clinic
Macular degeneration

[6] Journal of Ophthalmology, Smith, W.
Risk factors for age-related macular degeneration: Pooled findings from three continents.
2001, Volume: 108, No: 4, pages: 697-704

Resource: National Eye Institute [NEI], of the U.S. National Institutes of Health
Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Glossary of Terms

Amsler Grid:  a pattern of small boxes that is used for self-monitoring by patients who have age-related macular degeneration.

Degeneration: deterioration of a tissue or an organ in which its function is diminished or its structure is impaired.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Macula: A macula is a small spot. A macula on the skin is a small flat spot while the macula in the eye is a small spot where vision is keenest in the retina.

Expert Opinion

“The Amsler grid, used since 1945, is a grid of horizontal and vertical lines used to monitor a person’s central visual field. The grid was developed by Marc Amsler, a Swiss ophthalmologist. It is a diagnostic tool that aids in the detection of visual disturbances caused by changes in the retina, particularly the macula, as well as the optic nerve and the visual pathway to the brain.”

Amsler Grid  Wikipedia

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