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What Are the Risk Factors for Macular Degeneration?

As the name suggests, age-related macular degeneration is more common in older adults. In fact, it is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 60.

Macular degeneration may be hereditary, meaning it can be passed on from parents to children. If someone in your family has or had the condition you may be at higher risk for developing macular degeneration. Talk to your eye doctor about your individual risk.

Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and being light skinned, female, and having a light eye color are also risk factors for macular degeneration.

What Are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

In its early stages, macular degeneration may not have symptoms and may be unrecognized until it progresses or affects both eyes. The first sign of macular degeneration is usually a dim, blurry spot in the middle of your vision. This spot may get bigger or darker over time.

Symptoms of macular degeneration include:

  • Dark, blurry areas in the center of vision
  • Diminished or changed color perception

If you experience any of these symptoms, see an eye specialist as soon as possible.

How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?

Age-related macular degeneration can be detected in a routine eye exam. One of the most common early signs of macular degeneration is the presence of drusen -- tiny yellow deposits under the retina -- or pigment clumping. Your doctor can see these when examining the eyes. Your doctor may also ask you to look at an Amsler grid -- a pattern of straight lines that resemble a checkerboard. Some of the straight lines may appear wavy to you, or you may notice that some of the lines are missing. These can be signs of macular degeneration.

If your doctor detects age-related macular degeneration, you may have a procedure called angiography or an OCT. In angiography, a dye is injected into a vein in the arm. Photographs are taken as the dye reaches the eye and flows through the blood vessels of the retina. If there are new vessels or vessels leaking fluid or blood in the macula, the photographs will show their exact location and type. OCT is able to see fluid or blood underneath the retina without using dye.

Early detection of age-related macular degeneration is very important because there are treatments that can delay or reduce the severity of the disease.