Overview

Dry macular degeneration is a common eye disorder among people over 65. It causes blurred or reduced central vision, due to thinning of the macula (MAK-u-luh). The macula is the part of the retina responsible for clear vision in your direct line of sight.

Dry macular degeneration may first develop in one eye and then affect both. Over time your vision worsens, which may affect your ability to do things such as read, drive and recognize faces. But this doesn't mean you'll lose all of your sight.

Early detection and self-care measures may delay vision loss due to dry macular degeneration.

Symptoms

Dry macular degeneration symptoms usually develop gradually and without pain. They may include:

  • Visual distortions, such as straight lines seeming bent
  • Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
  • The need for brighter light when reading or doing close work
  • Increased difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit restaurant
  • Increased blurriness of printed words
  • Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

Dry macular degeneration usually affects both eyes. If only one eye is affected, you may not notice any changes in your vision because your good eye may compensate for the weak eye. And the condition doesn't affect side (peripheral) vision, so it rarely causes total blindness.

Dry macular degeneration is one of two types of age-related macular degeneration. It can progress to wet (neovascular) macular degeneration, which is characterized by blood vessels that grow under the retina and leak. The dry type is more common, but it usually progresses slowly (over years). The wet type is more likely to cause a relatively sudden change in vision resulting in serious vision loss.

When to see a doctor

See your eye doctor if:

  • You notice changes in your central vision
  • Your ability to see colors and fine detail becomes impaired

These changes may be the first indication of macular degeneration, particularly if you're over age 50.

Causes

No one knows exactly what causes dry macular degeneration. But research indicates it may be related to a combination of heredity and environmental factors, including smoking and diet.

The condition develops as the eye ages. Dry macular degeneration affects the macula — an area of the retina that's responsible for clear vision in your direct line of sight. Over time tissue in your macula may thin and break down.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of macular degeneration include:

  • Age. This disease is most common in people over 65.
  • Family history and genetics. This disease has a hereditary component. Researchers have identified several genes that are related to developing the condition.
  • Race. Macular degeneration is more common in whites than it is in other people.
  • Smoking. Smoking cigarettes or being regularly exposed to smoke significantly increases your risk of macular degeneration.
  • Obesity. Research indicates that being obese may increase your chance that early or intermediate macular degeneration will progress to the more severe form of the disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease. If you have had diseases that affected your heart and blood vessels, you may be at higher risk of macular degeneration.

Complications

People whose dry macular degeneration has progressed to central vision loss may experience depression or visual hallucinations. And dry macular degeneration may progress to wet macular degeneration, which can cause rapid vision loss if left untreated.

Prevention

The following measures may help reduce your risk of developing dry macular degeneration:

  • Have routine eye exams. Ask your eye doctor how often you need to undergo routine eye exams. A dilated eye exam can identify macular degeneration.
  • Manage your other medical conditions. For example, if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, take your medication and follow your doctor's instructions for controlling the condition.
  • Don't smoke. Smokers are more likely to develop macular degeneration than are nonsmokers. Ask your doctor for help to stop smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. If you need to lose weight, reduce the number of calories you eat and increase the amount of exercise you get each day. Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly and controlling your diet.
  • Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Choose a healthy diet that's full of a variety of fruits and vegetables. These foods contain antioxidant vitamins that reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • Include fish in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, may reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Nuts, such as walnuts, also contain omega-3 fatty acids.