Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the biggest cause of sight loss in the adult population in the UK. It’s often bilateral, meaning it affects both eyes.


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What is ARMD?

ARMD affects the macula, which is in the centre of the retina. The macula is used to see detail and colour. Someone with ARMD may have difficulty reading small print, bus numbers and food labels; seeing faces and recognising people; identifying obstacles in front of them; seeing contrast between similar colours such as the edge of steps.

There are two types of ARMD: 

Dry ARMD develops slowly as the cells in the macula gradually deteriorate and no longer work properly. Although it’s called ‘dry’ ARMD, it doesn’t relate to having dry eyes. 

Wet ARMD can develop rapidly from the growth of abnormal blood cells in the macula. These blood cells damage the macula by leaking fluid, bleeding or causing scarring. If caught quickly, however, there are some treatment options available. 

Symptoms

If you have any type of ARMD, your central vision will be affected.

Treatment

Treatment usually involves injections into the eye. This enables drugs to target the abnormal blood vessel growth and reduces the damage caused by this.

Practical implications 

Everyone’s experience of ARMD will differ, depending on the type of ARMD you have, any treatment you’ve received and whether you have any co-existing eye conditions. In all cases, however, it will affect your central vision because of the damage to the macular. 

Here are some examples of the difficulties you may experience in your day to day life:

  • Reading — small print, mail, medication instructions, bus numbers, food labels, etc.
  • Seeing faces, facial expressions and recognising people. 
  • Completing detailed tasks such as writing, filling out forms, doing make-up, shaving, sewing, pouring a drink or preparing food.
  • Identifying and avoiding obstacles and hazards in front of you, for example people on a busy street, street bins and signs.
  • Seeing contrast between similar colours, for example the edge of steps or stairs, finding medication on a light background or finding a dark item dropped on a dark carpet.
A picture of a man using a magnifying glass to read a bottle

Find strategies that work for you 

Our series of helpful hints and tips will help you maintain your independence while learning new skills and strategies.

Find out more about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment on the NHS website.

The Macular Society also has some useful information.