Dry age-related macular degeneration: symptoms and causes

As you age, you are more likely to have certain conditions that affect your vision. One common condition is age-related dry macular degeneration (AMD), which affects your central vision.

The macula is the part of your eye that is responsible for central vision. When you focus your eyes on a book, on your phone, or while driving, the spot helps you see details right in front of you.

If the cells on the macula start to deteriorate, your central vision will be affected. Macular degeneration is usually age-related.

There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. Dry AMD, which is more common, occurs when the macula gradually becomes thinner with age.

Dry AMD occurs when the pigmented epithelial cells of the retina begin to deteriorate.

Because your central vision depends on the macula, dry AMD directly affects your central vision. You may experience blurry or empty “points” in your central vision.

Dry AMD occurs in three stages:

  • During the early stage of dry AMD, the macula begins to deteriorate, but you don’t have any symptoms.
  • During the middle stage of dry AMD, you may notice a blurring of your central vision.
  • The late stage of dry AMD includes more obvious symptoms.

Dry AMD usually takes years to progress from early to late stage AMD. It is possible to have dry AMD in one or both eyes.

AMD does not cause complete blindness. However, loss of central vision may make it difficult to read, drive, and do other activities.

You are unlikely to experience any symptoms in the early stages of dry AMD. However, the doctor or health care professional will be able to see that the macula is deteriorating during the eye exam.

You may not experience any symptoms in the middle stage as well. Some people may notice a slight distortion of their central vision.

The late stage of dry AMD is more noticeable. You may experience the following symptoms:

  • A blurry or empty spot in your central vision that may grow over time
  • Seeing straight lines zigzag or wavy
  • Colors may appear fainter than usual
  • More difficulty seeing in low light

The American Macular Degeneration Foundation has created a video depicting What someone with AMD sees.

If you notice that straight lines begin to appear curved or wavy, it is important that you get medical attention.

There are three stages of dry AMD.

Early stage of dry AMD

At this point, the macula begins to deteriorate.

You won’t experience any symptoms, but the doctor will be able to see the macular degeneration during an eye exam. They may notice large drusen, which are yellow spots, in the macula.

AMD Dry Intermediate Stage

In the middle stage, you may experience mild symptoms of macular degeneration.

These symptoms can include difficulty seeing in low light as well as some blurring of your central vision. You may also start to see straight lines as wavy.

Late stage of dry AMD

Late stage of dry AMD includes more marked vision loss.

These symptoms may include:

  • More difficulty seeing in low light
  • Blurry or blank spots in your central vision
  • Colors appear fainter than usual
  • Seeing straight lines zigzag or wavy

Your doctor may notice larger or more visible rims when examining the affected eye(s).

Dry AMD is caused by deterioration of cells in the macula.

Macular degeneration can be caused by age or environmental factors.

Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye grow and damage the macula, while dry AMD occurs when cells in the macula begin to deteriorate and die.

Dry AMD differs from wet AMD in that dry AMD occurs more slowly. However, if you have dry AMD, it can progress to wet AMD.

Dry AMD is also more common than wet AMD: About 85 to 90% of diagnoses of age-related macular degeneration are dry AMD, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

As the name suggests, AMD is closely related to your age. Macular degeneration is considered age-related when it occurs in people over 55 years of age.

Although age is the most obvious risk factor, you may be more likely to develop dry AMD if you:

  • You have a family history of AMD
  • Smoking cigarettes, vape nicotine, or using other tobacco products
  • she is white
  • You do not have a balanced diet

Although you can’t change your genes or your age, you can embark on positive lifestyle changes that support the health of your eyes.

For example, you can consider a smoking cessation program if you smoke. You can also talk with a doctor or other health care professional about improving your diet.

Macular degeneration can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist during an eye exam.

During an eye exam, your doctor may ask if you’ve experienced any changes in your vision. They may ask you to look at the Amsler grid, which is a black and white grid with a dot in the middle. If you have any blurry or blank spots in your vision, the Amsler grille will make it clearer.

To check for macular degeneration, you will need a dilated eye exam. Your doctor will put dilating drops in your eye and then look at your eye using a special lens.

Note that eye dilating drops take some time to wear off, so you may need to be off work for a few hours and avoid driving after your appointment.

The dilating eye drops can cause photosensitivity, so bring a good quality pair of sunglasses with you to your appointment, if possible.

The doctor may also examine the retina using:

  • Optical coherence tomography, where the device scans the retina
  • fluorescein angiography, which involves injecting a yellow dye into a vein — usually in your arm — and then imaging the retina when the dye reaches the blood vessels in your eye
  • Optical tomography angiography, which is like fluorescein angiography without dye

If your doctor has not noticed any changes in your macula but you are at risk of developing AMD, he or she may advise you to schedule another test in the near future.

Monitoring your eye regularly for degeneration can help you understand and manage the diagnosis.

There is no cure for dry AMD. However, some people may benefit from using a combination of supplements.

Two clinical trials, called Age Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), looked at how to treat middle and late stage AMD. The study found that people with AMD were less likely to lose their central vision if they took a combination of vitamins and minerals every day.

These supplements are:

It is best to speak with an ophthalmologist before trying these supplements. Studies have suggested that AREDS supplements have only helped people with certain forms of dry AMD, and you may not benefit from them.

Your eye doctor may also be able to suggest lifestyle changes — such as quitting smoking and following a nutrient-rich diet — that may reduce the development of dry AMD.

In some cases, you may be able to lower your risk of developing dry AMD.

To support the health of your eyes, you can try:

AMD does not cause complete blindness. However, it can cause you to lose your central vision, which can affect your daily life.

If you have a family history of AMD, it is wise to visit your eye doctor regularly for checkups. They can review your individual medical history and advise you on how often you should have an eye exam.


Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues related to social justice, cannabis and health. You can contact her at Twitter.