7 Symptoms of Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and it affects millions of people. This is a type of vision loss that occurs due to issues in the macula. The macula, which is the center of the retina, is supposed to assist in viewing straight ahead vision, but it can become damaged over time. There are two types of degeneration, wet and dry. Dry is the most common type, and it occurs when the macula gradually deteriorates and atrophies. Wet is a less common type that occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula and cause damage.

Macular degeneration mostly occurs among people over the age of 80, so it is sometimes called age-related macular degeneration. However, other things like high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking can cause macular degeneration to occur even earlier than expected. Though macular degeneration is not entirely curable, there are treatments that can help to slow the progression of the disease. Therefore, it is crucial to identify degeneration during the earlier stages before vision is entirely lost. There are many signs and symptoms of macular degeneration, so you should speak to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.

1. Blurred vision

As the macula begins to degrade, vision will no longer look as crisp and clear. Unfortunately, this sign is often difficult to notice because people assume that it is just the normal type of vision loss associated with old age. They may simply get a higher prescription for glasses and not worry about any blurriness. However, the blurred vision caused by macular degeneration can be distinguished from normal vision degradation because it occurs at all distances. Whether you glance at something close up or far away, the blurriness will remain.

Many people first notice that blurring while reading printed words because it occurs even when the person is wearing glasses. At first, the vision blurring might seem to be more general, but as degeneration progresses, the blurriness will begin to concentrate itself in your central vision. You may notice that things along the edge of your vision appear much sharper than things in your central vision. This blurriness can be tricky to notice because it happens so gradually. You or those around you may notice that you are beginning to hold your head at an angle while looking at objects. Many people with macular degeneration do this unconsciously to compensate for blurring in the center of their vision.

2. Partial vision loss

The macula is primarily responsible for central vision, so when it degrades, that will be the first type of vision to go. You may not notice it at first, because you can still see anything by tipping your head slightly. However, the macular degeneration will cause things in the center of your vision to disappear. This symptom most commonly occurs in both eyes, but it can happen in just one at a time. Vision loss is understandably frightening, but keep in mind that total vision loss for macular degeneration is quite rare. Even once the disease has greatly progressed, you will still have peripheral vision.

3. Abnormal vision

Any signs of vision looking unusual can be a symptom of an eye condition. Abnormal vision is anything that does not seem correct, and it can occur in either one or both eyes. One of the most common types of abnormal vision is that straight lines will appear wavy or bent. This is most commonly a sign of wet degeneration, but it can occur with dry degeneration as well. Straight lines beginning to look wavy is typically one of the very earliest symptoms of the condition. You can easily test it by staring at an Amsler grid and seeing if the grid appears to have squares or not.

4. Distorted vision

As your central vision begins to degrade, you might find that the things you look at seem to be skewed, bent, or otherwise distorted. Bits of things you see might seem to be discolored, and small patches of patterns might seem to disappear. Certain objects might seem a little lighter, darker, wider, or shorter than they previously did. The color distortion associated with macular degeneration tends to make colors look duller and more muted, and it can be difficult to distinguish between colors like black and navy blue. Vision distortion can frequently be noticed when you turn your head, because your peripheral vision will be so much better than your central vision.

5. Inability to see in dim light

If you find yourself constantly reaching for a lamp in dim lighting, it may be a symptom of macular degeneration. All of the blurriness and distortion caused by the degeneration of the macula leads to more difficulty seeing in the darkness. It takes more time for an eye with macular degeneration to adjust to light changes, so this symptom will be very noticeable when walking into a dark area. People with the condition need bright light while reading or doing detailed work like knitting. However, just switching to a bright light suddenly can lead to further vision difficulties for patients with degeneration because glare or bright lights can cause light sensitivity or haziness.

6. Seeing spots

The brain registers vision loss in many different ways, so you might not necessarily register blurriness or abnormal vision. For some people, the vision loss will make them see spots while looking around. These spots can appear to be black, white, or patches of muted color. They can be quite big for some patients, or they may appear to be several small clusters of spots. This often occurs in bright lights, because the scarring on the macula causes light to reflect within the eyeball. Spots may last for just a few seconds, or they may remain for much longer time periods.

7. New or abnormal blood vessels

The interior of the eye contains many blood vessels, but they are typically constrained to an area called the choroid, so they do not get in the way of vision. In some patients with degeneration, blood vessels can began to grow at a rapid rate in areas of the eye where they should not be. This is typically a sign of wet macular degeneration, and it may not be visible to the naked eye. However, it will be visible during eye examinations. Getting regular eye exams can help to ensure that you get treatment and halt the abnormal blood vessel growth before it causes further damage.