When AMD Appears Earlier in Life

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on February 21, 2023
5 min read

It’s rare to be diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) before the age of 50. But it does happen. Research suggests that many people start to get AMD in their 30s and 40s, even before symptoms start. 

If your AMD does appear earlier in life, you may wonder how you’ll be able to do your job, spend time with your family, and continue with activities you enjoy. But chances are, you’ll be able to continue to do all these things with some modifications. Here are some things to know as you begin your early-onset AMD journey.

You may be at higher risk of AMD at a younger age if you:

  • Have a family history of AMD
  • Are white
  • Smoke or have smoked
  • Are overweight
  • Have high blood pressure or heart disease
  • Eat foods high in saturated fat like meat, butter, and cheese
  • Were assigned female at birth

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your medical provider. They may want you to see a certain type of eye doctor, known as an ophthalmologist, for an eye screening exam. The earlier AMD is diagnosed, the better your chances of successful treatment.

Many times, you can. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with vision impairments have some job protection. Your employer needs to make “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for your low vision. That means they must pay for certain things to help you and put them in place. Examples of things they may do include:

  • Create large-print labels so you can read work materials.
  • Add new lighting to improve light in your office.
  • Adjust your desk and office space to control lighting and glare.
  • Provide a low-vision device like a magnifier to help you read fine print.

There may also be things that you can’t do anymore for work because of your vision, such as driving, moving equipment, or handling hazardous items. Talk to your employer to find out if they can shift your job responsibilities. One option is to switch duties with a co-worker. 

Once you’re diagnosed with early-onset AMD, it’s a good idea to contact your state rehabilitation agency for the blind or visually impaired. They have vocational rehabilitation counselors on staff who can work with both you and your workplace to make necessary changes. 

A counselor can also refer you to low-vision specialists. An orientation and mobility specialist will help you adjust to your work environment with your vision loss. They can also help you figure out ways to get to and from work if you can no longer drive. A vision rehabilitation therapist can help you manage any day-to-day activities that may be altered by your low vision, such as reading, writing, and money management.

It’s very important that you have good social support available if you’re diagnosed with AMD before the age of 50. People with AMD may often feel depressed and isolated. You may feel frustrated that daily activities such as getting your kids ready for school or grocery shopping are now more difficult. Hobbies that you used to enjoy -- like playing a sport or knitting -- may now be harder. It can seem impossible not to have negative emotions, which will impact your family or partner.

If you have AMD, make clear to loved ones what you need help with. This could include asking:

  • Your partner to run errands
  • A trusted friend to drive you to medical appointments
  • The rest of the household to help with meals and house cleaning. If that’s difficult, consider hiring someone to help. 

In addition, you’ll want to go through your home with your partner or other loved ones and make sure it’s been adapted to suit your vision needs. This could include rearranging furniture, color-coding household items, and getting rid of safety hazards like rugs or loose electrical cords.

You may find it hard to have these conversations with your family. Keep in mind that the more open you are, the more likely they’ll be to appreciate and understand. The BrightFocus Foundation offers an online tool called Lotsa Helping Hands that provides a free private group for friends and family. This will allow everyone to coordinate the dates and times when they help you -- for example, a friend can sign up to drive you to a doctor’s appointment one day or to go grocery shopping.

If you’re diagnosed with AMD before the age of 50, you may worry that you’ll eventually lose your sight completely. That’s usually not the case. Most people with AMD maintain some level of vision. Even if you lose your central vision entirely, you’ll still be able to keep your peripheral, or side vision. There are a few things you can do to help prevent your disease from progressing:

Take certain vitamins. Research shows that a supplement that contains lutein, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and copper reduces the risk that you’ll develop advanced dry AMD by 25%. Look for products that have the “AREDS2” formula on the label.

Make lifestyle changes. The following may also slow down your AMD:

  • Eating a healthy diet. This includes fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or sardines twice a week. Avoid sugar or red meat.
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Wearing sunglasses when outdoors in bright light.

Get the right treatment. There are two types of AMD: “wet” and “dry.” If yours is wet, talk to your doctor about whether you should take anti-VEGF and anti-ANG2 medications. These will help prevent your losing more central vision. If you have dry AMD, there aren’t drug any treatments, but you may qualify to enroll in a clinical trial that helps reduce the risk of progression to an advanced form of AMD called geographic atrophy. Your doctor can help you find one. 

Join a support group. It can help to talk over your fears, worries, and concerns with other people who live with low vision. They can share coping strategies and offer advice and encouragement.