Have a question about AMD?
We’ve listed some of the most frequently asked questions about age-related macular degeneration (AMD) below. But if your question isn’t in our FAQ list, or if you’d just like to talk to someone about any aspect of macular disease, we’re here for you.
Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) operates a free National Helpline, providing information and advice about all types of macular diseases. We also have peer support groups and a range of publications to help you.
All MDFA services are free.
National Helpline1800 111 709
AMD FAQ fact sheets
Your eye health professional can give you advice on your individual situation. These fact sheets have some of the main questions you might want to ask your eye health professional at your next visit.
- What to ask your eye health professional: At risk of AMD
- What to ask your eye health professional: Diagnosed with AMD
- What to ask your eye health professional: Being treated for wet AMD
Frequently asked questions about AMD
Does macular degeneration only affect older people?
There are many forms of macular degeneration. The most common is the age-related variant and age-related macular degeneration is the most common macular disease.
However, there are many forms of macular degeneration that can affect younger people. These are all quite rare. And most are caused by a specific genetic defect.
Some of these forms include:
- Best disease also known as Best vitelliform macular dystrophy.
- Stargardt disease. This is the most common form of macular degeneration seen in younger people. It may appear from about 10 years of age, although vision loss may not occur until the 20s or 30s.
- Myopic macular degeneration. This can occur in people who are severely near-sighted due to extreme elongation of the eyeball. Myopic macular degeneration can result in tears in the macula and bleeding beneath the retina.
- Other macular dystrophies including Sorsby’s fundus dystrophy, Behr’s dystrophy and Doyne’s (or honeycomb) dystrophy.
Can you get age-related macular degeneration in both eyes?
You can have early, intermediate or late stage – wet (neovascular) or dry (atrophic) age-related macular degeneration in one eye or both eyes.
For example, some people can have early AMD in one eye and dry (atrophic) AMD in the other eye. Others can have the same stage of AMD in both eyes.
I love reading. Will I make my AMD worse by continuing to read?
No. You will not make your AMD worse by reading.
You may find you become tired more quickly when you are reading because you are having to concentrate more, particularly if you already have some loss of vision.
You may need to have a break a bit more often when you are reading or make sure you have better lighting. Using low vision aids and technology could also make it easier for you to read.
Can using my eyes cause further damage, will resting them make them last longer?
No, definitely not.
You cannot hurt your eyes or wear them out quicker by using them for normal tasks.
Please use your eyes as much as you like. By doing so you may learn new ways of seeing things to compensate for your decreased vision.
Can resting my good eye save it from developing AMD?
If only one eye is affected, resting your good eye has no impact on your risk of age-related macular degeneration developing.
However, if you do have AMD in one eye, it’s recommended you have your eyes examined more frequently by your eye health professional. That’s because you’re at increased risk of developing AMD in your good eye too.
I have dry eyes. Is this the same as dry age-related macular degeneration?
No. Dry or itchy eyes (a condition that affects the front of the eye) is a different eye condition to dry (atrophic) age-related macular degeneration, which affects the retina at the back of the eye.
I have watery eyes. Does this mean I have wet age-related macular degeneration?
No. Wet AMD means you have some fluid or blood leaking from abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina at the back of the eye. You can’t see this fluid or blood if you look in the mirror.
You should speak to your eye health professional – an optometrist or ophthalmologist – if you have dry, itchy or watery eyes.
Can I see for myself if my retina or macula shows any signs of damage before I have symptoms?
No. It’s impossible to examine your own retina, which lines the inside of the eye. You need to have a full eye examination from an optometrist or ophthalmologist who will normally dilate (enlarge) the pupil to give a clear view of the retina, including the macula.
Is age-related macular degeneration painful?
No. AMD doesn’t cause any pain.
The early stages of age-related macular degeneration can also develop without you being aware of any visual symptoms. That’s why you need an optometrist or your ophthalmologist to check your retina.
A painful eye can be due to a number of other conditions and should be investigated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Why don't new glasses help?
Glasses help the lens at the front of the eye to better focus the image onto the retina (at the back of the eye). If the retina is damaged, the image is compromised. This sometimes can’t be corrected, regardless of the strength of the lens or spectacles prescribed.
An analogy is with an old style film camera. Cleaning the lens at the front of the camera will not help if the film at the back of the camera is damaged.
Do other eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy have an impact on AMD?
No. Other eye diseases or conditions have no impact on the incidence, severity or outcome of AMD.
Of course, many eye complaints may cause vision loss or disturbance to varying degrees.
If you also have central vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration, other visual symptoms can exacerbate your vision loss. But, clinically, they don’t affect the actual disease progress.
Is a macular hole the same as age-related macular degeneration?
No, they are separate and distinct conditions. There is no relationship between the two, although the symptoms can be similar.
A macular hole could be described as a traumatic event. It’s when a hole develops in the macula, due to the vitreous gel inside the eye pulling on the retina. This vitreous gel tends to shrink as we get older, causing traction. In most cases, macular holes can be surgically repaired, if they are treated early.
Is it normal to experience phantom images?
Up to 30 per cent of people who have significant vision loss from AMD or other eye conditions experience a range of phantom images. This is known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS).
These phantom images are sometimes incorrectly labelled as hallucinations. They can be mildly irritating or quite distressing, especially for those who experience vivid, random images of everyday objects or scenes at the most inappropriate times.
Typically, people with CBS know that the phantom images are not real. Other senses such as hearing, smell and taste are not involved.
Be assured that this experience is a result of failing eyesight and are not a mental health issue.
Images tend to come and go and will often settle down with time, although in some people, they can last for many years.
Please discuss your concerns with your family and your eye health professional. It is quite possible that some health workers may not be fully aware of Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
My vision is good but my optometrist or ophthalmologist says I have the early signs of AMD. What does that mean?
The first signs of AMD start when the cells at the back of the eye (retina) do not efficiently remove waste products. These waste products, called drusen, build up under the centre of the retina (macula).
If you have early signs, this means there are drusen under the retina. Typically, in the early stages, you will notice little or no impact on your vision.
It is important to continue attending your regular appointments and use your Amsler grid to monitor your macular health.
I have been diagnosed with drusen, does this mean I have AMD?
Almost everyone over the age of 50 has a few very small drusen (also called drupelets).
These are considered a normal sign of ageing and are not classified as age-related macular degeneration.
It’s only when the drusen increase in number and grow beyond a certain size that it is classified as AMD.
Is age-related macular degeneration contagious?
No. It is a degenerative disease and not contagious so cannot be passed from person to person like a cold.
Is age-related macular degeneration genetic?
Yes, up to 70 per cent of people with age-related macular degeneration have a genetic link. If you have a direct family member (that’s a parent or sibling) with the disease, you have a 50 per cent risk of getting the disease.
At least 35 gene variations can influence your risk of getting the disease. Other risk factors are age and smoking.
If there’s a family history of AMD, it’s important all members of your family have regular eye exams, follow a healthy diet and monitor for vision changes. You can find out more about your risk by doing our Check My Macula quiz.
I have had dry AMD for years. Does this mean I'm going to get wet AMD, too?
Ten to 15 per cent of people with early, intermediate or late stage dry (atrophic) AMD will develop wet (neovascular) AMD and this can occur very quickly.
For this reason, it is essential to have a regular eye exam and macula check, as recommended by your eye health professional.
Additionally, use an Amsler grid to check your vision at home every day, especially if you have been diagnosed with AMD. If you notice any sudden change to your vision, contact your eye health professional immediately.
Any delay increases the likelihood of losing vision and potential blindness.
I have geographic atrophy, what does this mean?
Geographic atrophy is when retinal cells gradually die (atrophy), leading to patches of missing retina and loss of central vision.
This occurs in the late stage of age-related macular degeneration known as dry (atrophic) AMD.
I have neovascular AMD, what does this mean?
Neovascular age-related macular degeneration, also called wet AMD, is a late stage of AMD. Neovascular means ‘new vessels’ and in wet (neovascular) AMD, new and fragile blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These blood vessels can leak fluid and blood, which may damage the macula. Wet (neovascular) AMD can lead to rapid loss of central vision without treatment.
What is an Amsler grid?
An Amsler grid is an easy-to-use self-monitoring tool used to detect changes in your central vision between visits to your optometrist or ophthalmologist. It does not replace an eye exam.
Changes to your vision may include distortion (straight lines appearing wavy), blurred patches or dark patches. When using an Amsler grid, it’s important that you test one eye at a time, and hold the grid at your normal reading distance. If you use reading glasses, you should wear them when using an Amsler grid. You can order a FREE Amsler grid from MDFA.
I have noticed changes to my vision when using the Amsler grid, what should I do?
If you notice any sudden changes to your vision when using an Amsler grid it is critical that you advise your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately. Make an urgent appointment to have your eyes tested and your macula checked.
When making the appointment, tell them that you have had a sudden change in vision. If you are given an appointment which is more than a week away, ask for it to be sooner.
Intermediate or late stage dry AMD can turn into wet AMD very quickly. Any delays in seeking treatment can lead to loss of sight.
Is exercise good for age-related macular degeneration?
Regular exercise is good not only for your general health and wellbeing but there is also evidence that people who exercise regularly are less likely to progress to late-stage disease. In addition, exercise is important for your emotional wellbeing.
Can supplements help?
The original AREDS study showed that a supplement based on a specific formula of zinc and antioxidants slowed the progression of age-related macular degeneration for people in the intermediate stage in one or both eyes, or in the late stage in one eye. The AREDS formula reduced the risk of progression of the disease by 20 to 25 per cent and delayed vision loss.
The AREDS study showed that the formula had no effect on people with no age-related macular degeneration, or only very early signs of the disease (such as a few small drusen), or people with advanced disease in both eyes. An optimal eye health diet is more appropriate for these people. You can read more about supplements or view the fact sheet.
Any decision to take a supplement should be made in consultation with your optometrist, ophthalmologist or GP.
I have vision loss from AMD and cataracts. Will cataract surgery help?
In people with advanced vision loss from AMD, most central vision is lost and the person is very dependent on their peripheral vision.
If these people also have significant cataracts, cataract surgery can significantly improve the quality of peripheral vision. Several studies have shown that in people who have significant cataracts and severe vision loss from AMD, cataract surgery can produce major improvements in overall quality of life, even if central vision is not improved.
By contrast, people with severe vision loss from AMD and mild cataracts do not usually benefit greatly from cataract surgery.
Does cataract surgery increase the risk of macular degeneration progression?
Cataracts and AMD are common eye conditions that can affect older people at the same time. Some studies and anecdotal reports suggest that cataract surgery may accelerate the progression of AMD. Other studies have shown no link. On balance, cataract surgery does not appear to contribute to the worsening of AMD.
In some people, dense cataracts can mask the symptoms of AMD. When a dense cataract is removed and replaced with a new intraocular lens, vision is usually much clearer, meaning that the symptoms of AMD, such as distortion, can become more obvious. Some people have mistakenly concluded that the surgery made the AMD worse.
People with conditions such as wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration may be receiving regular injections of an anti-VEGF drug to reduce the formation of unwanted new blood vessels and leakage under or within the retina. If these people also have significant cataracts, it is generally considered appropriate to delay cataract surgery until the new blood vessel formation and leakage has stabilised. Delaying cataract surgery won’t have any negative impact on the outcome of the surgery.
Eye specialist, A/Professor Salmaan Qureshi answers some common questions in this webinar.