What to Expect with Geographic Atrophy

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on February 19, 2023
4 min read

Geographic atrophy (GA) is an advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration. You may have vision loss that happens over time. Here’s what you can expect.

With GA, you get blind spots in your central field of vision, or what you see in front of you.

When you look at something directly, part of it may look blurry. When you read a book, you may notice blind spots on the page. You may see a word, but not all the letters in the word.

GA usually starts slowly. Over time, it spreads to other parts of your retina. This leads to more vision loss. After a few years, your vision may decline to legal blindness. 

As GA progresses, you may still be able to see with your peripheral vision, which is outside of your central field of vision.

Vision loss happens on a spectrum, which means everyone is different. You may develop partial vision loss or total vision loss. It may happen quickly or slowly.

 At first you may have no symptoms of vision loss. Over time, you may notice more vision changes. It may happen in one or both eyes. GA leads to permanent vision loss.

 Vision changes may include:

  • A need for extra lighting when you’re reading
  • Colors look dull or washed out
  • Dark or dim spots in or near the center of your vision
  • Difficulty doing things like cooking, crafts, driving, and reading
  • A hard time noticing differences between shades of similar or the same colors
  • Difficulty recognizing people’s faces
  • Trouble seeing in the center of your field of vision
  • A hard time seeing when lighting is dim or when there’s glare
  • Seeing things less clearly or sharply

There’s no treatment available for GA yet, but there are new treatments being studied. In the meantime, you can manage vision loss with simple strategies and vision aids.

Vision aids include:

  • Large-print books, magazines, and newspapers
  • Magnifiers to help you read
  • Software for your computer or tablet that helps you see better
  • Special electronic devices like computers, tablets, and closed-circuit TVs
  • Special lighting to make it easier to see
  • Telescopic lenses to help you see in the distance

With GA, you may feel less independent. Also, you may be less interested in socializing with other people. It may feel frustrating when your daily activities or tasks take longer than they used to. You may feel symptoms of depression or anxiety. It’s important to take care of your mental health and get the support you need.

Try these tips for getting support:

Talk to your doctor. Your primary care doctor or eye doctor can help you manage the changes in your life that come from GA. Be open. Talk about how you’re feeling and how it’s different from how it usually is. Ask your doctor about what you can do to manage your day-to-day life and your work life.

Join a support group. Connecting with people who are going through a similar experience can help you feel less alone and give you valuable tools to feel better. Group members may shed light on different aspects of living with GA, offer tips and solutions, lend an ear, and give you extra support. To find a group, try MD Support (mdsupport.org).

See a therapist. A therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional can help you work through your feelings and help you with the challenges of life with GA. Take care of your emotional well-being by talking about it with a professional.

Try these tips for taking care of your mental health:

Be active. Exercise is a powerful way to feel better. Being physically active may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Ask your doctor what type of exercise may be best for you. They may recommend a certain routine that’s safe to do with vision loss.

Be social. Being with family and friends is good for you. Staying connected and doing things together can stave off feelings of isolation. Do things that you enjoy together. If you can’t do the things you normally like because vision loss makes it too hard, find new things to enjoy and make you happy.

Try vision rehabilitation. You can visit a specialist who helps people with low vision. A low vision specialist can help you use your vision better. They may give you strategies to help you see and skills to manage low vision. They’ll make a plan that’s right for you. Talk to your eye doctor, who can recommend vision rehabilitation or specialists.

Learning more about GA and your vision loss can help you manage the ups and downs.

Ask your doctor questions like:

  • How can I manage better with GA?
  • Are there lifestyle changes I can make to protect my vision?
  • Will treatments become available, and if so, when?
  • Is my family at risk of GA, and if so, what can they do to prevent it?
  • What signs of complications should I watch for?
  • Can you recommend a vision rehabilitation or low vision specialist?
  • Can you refer me to a mental health counselor?
  • Can you connect me with a GA support group?

Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Eye floaters
  • Eye flashers
  • Eye pressure
  • Painful eye inflammation and sensitivity to light