Symptoms of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and How It Is Diagnosed

By Lylas G. Mogk, M.D.
Edited by Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

Your eye care specialist is likely to see signs of macular degeneration before you are aware of any loss of vision. When you do start experiencing vision loss from age-related macular degeneration, symptoms can include:

  • Blurred or "fuzzy" vision
  • Straight lines, such as sentences on a page, appearing wavy or distorted
  • Blurry areas on a printed page
  • Difficulty reading or seeing details in low light levels
  • Extra sensitivity to glare

Diagnosing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

To diagnose age-related macular degeneration effectively, most macular specialists recommend the following procedures:

  • Distance and near vision acuity tests
  • A dilated eye (or fundus) examination, which includes the use of an ophthalmoscope. The pupil of the eye is dilated to allow the examiner to see through it and observe the macula at the inside back wall of the eye.
  • Optical coherence tomography testing (OCT) may be used to gain a clearer picture of the macula and its supporting layers. OCT is a type of medical imaging technology that produces high-resolution cross-sectional and three-dimensional images of the eye.
  • For more information about the components of a comprehensive eye examination, see The Difference between a Vision Screening and a Comprehensive Eye Examination.

The Amsler Grid

Once age-related macular degeneration has been diagnosed, you may be given an Amsler Grid to use at home as an early warning system for changes in age-related macular degeneration, particularly a change from dry to wet AMD. The macula is particularly sensitive to horizontal and vertical lines; therefore, waviness, distortion, or missing lines on the grid may be noticed before a change in visual acuity.

The first image below shows an Amsler Grid as seen with normal vision. The next image is how the Amsler Grid may appear to a person with age-related macular degeneration. These images of the grids are much smaller than normal size so that we can show them to you on this website. If you have been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, ask your eye care professional for a real Amsler Grid you can use at home.

Amsler Grid as seen with normal vision
As seen with normal vision

Amsler grid as seen with person with AMD
As seen with AMD

Scheduling a Comprehensive Eye Examination

If you have at least two of the top five symptoms covered above, you should have a thorough eye examination by an eye care specialist. Individuals who are over 40 should have a dilated eye examination every two or three years.

A condition called Late-Onset Retinal Degeneration (L-ORD) is often mistaken for macular degeneration, but in its severest state, affects both central and peripheral vision.

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