Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Reviewed by Grant M. Comer, M.D., M.S.

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What Is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye disease that causes damage to the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eye that allows us to see fine details clearly.  AMD can impair central vision. People who are affected by AMD may have problems reading, driving, and performing activities that require clear central vision. In severe cases, AMD makes close work like threading a needle or reading a book difficult or impossible. When the macula does not function correctly, we experience blurriness or darkness in the center of our vision. Although AMD reduces vision in the central part of the retina, it does not tend to affect peripheral vision. AMD alone does not usually result in total blindness. Most people continue to have some useful vision and are able to live independently. AMD is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in our senior population.

Stages of Age-related Macular Degeneration

The Dry Stage

This is the more common form. In this type of AMD, the delicate tissues of the macula become thinned and slowly lose function over a period of years to decades.

The Wet Stage

This is less common, but is typically more damaging. The wet type of AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels behind the macula. The abnormal blood vessels tend to hemorrhage or leak fluid, resulting in the formation of scar tissue if left untreated. In most instances, the wet stage develops in addition to the dry stage of AMD.

AMD develops differently in each person and the symptoms tend to vary. AMD may cause a progressive loss of central sight; however, it does not usually cause total blindness. Peripheral vision is unaffected, allowing a certain amount of mobility in normal surroundings. If left untreated, the wet type of AMD may progress rapidly.

Your Questions about AMD Answered - Videos (12)

Anjali Shah, M.D., retina specialist, answers the most commonly asked questions about age-related macular degeneration.

Topics covered

  • What is age-related macular degeneration?
  • What causes AMD?
  • What's the difference between dry and wet AMD?
  • Amsler grid testing
  • Fluorescein angiography test
  • What treatments are available for AMD?
  • Anti-VEGF therapy treatment
  • How often will I need injections if I have wet AMD?
  • Will the injections hurt? What are the side effects?
  • Laser surgery treatment
  • Photodynamic therapy treatment
  • Are there any advances on the horizon?

Watch the AMD videos.

Symptoms

  • Blurry vision
  • Distorted vision
  • Straight lines appear wavy
  • Objects may appear as the wrong shape or size
  • The loss of clear, correct colors
  • Difficulty reading
  • A dark, empty area in the center of vision

The symptoms described above may not necessarily mean that you have AMD. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor for a complete exam.

Treatment and Drugs

Currently, there is no known cure for AMD. There are, however, new therapies emerging. For individuals with AMD , it is recommended that a regular schedule of eye examinations be maintained. During these examinations, detailed documentation may be performed. With this information, your eye doctor is better able to monitor the condition, note any changes that may occur, and determine the most appropriate therapy.

Treatment for Dry Macular Degeneration

Supplementation with specific anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals has been shown to significantly slow the progression of dry AMD. For details on the dosage and side-effects, please see your ophthalmologist.

Treatment for Wet Macular Degeneration

Since approximately 2005, ophthalmologists have used a class of drugs called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors as the primary treatment for wet macular degeneration. These drugs inhibit the growth and leakage of abnormal blood vessels and are the first treatments that have been shown to improve vision in some eyes rather than simply slowing the rate of vision loss. VEGF inhibitors are delivered through tiny injections in the eye periodically.

Other treatments include laser treatments and photodynamic therapy.  These treatments are designed to seal the leaking blood vessels, halting the damage they can inflict upon the retina. These treatments may be effective in slowing the progression of wet macular degeneration and are sometimes used in combination with VEGF inhibitors. Research is underway to find new and more effective treatments for this condition.

Research

For information on AMD research, visit Clinical Trials, the AMD Genetic Research Study, and for a longer list of studies needing volunteers throughout the U-M Health System, please go to UMClinicalStudies.

Clinic Information

For more information, see the Retina and Uveitis Clinic or the Center for Retinal and Macular Degeneration at the U-M Kellogg Eye Center.

Additional Resources

These websites are not operated by the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. Kellogg Eye Center is not associated with these websites in any way, nor does it endorse or take responsibility for any of the content. These links are provided for the convenience of our users.

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Canadian Ophthalmological Society

MedlinePlus

National Institutes of Health

  • ARMD
    NIH's SeniorHealth website covers the topic of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

National Eye Institute

American Foundation for the Blind - Senior Site

  • Macular Degeneration
    Basic information about AMD and low vision; includes a self-test using an Amsler Grid

Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

WebMD

LightHouse International

  • Macular Degeneration
    Provides a general overview of the basics of AMD, and a simulation showing a scene as it might be viewed by a person with AMD

Prevent Blindness America

Foundation Fighting Blindness

Last Modified: Thursday, 05-Feb-2015 08:29:22 EST