Preserving your vision as you age

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among people older than 50. The disorder occurs when the tissue at the back of the eye (retina) begins to break down as you age. You may notice a loss of sight in your central line of vision. This is because the cells in the center (macula) of the retina stop working.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Types and symptoms of macular degeneration

You might not know you have macular degeneration until your vision gets worse or your eye doctor spots changes during an exam. You can have macular degeneration in one eye or both.

Types of macular degeneration

The light-sensing cells at the back of your eye slowly break down. This is the most common form.

Symptoms of dry macular degeneration include:

  • Blank or blurry spot in your central vision

  • Blurred or darkened vision

  • Colors appear less vivid

  • Difficulty seeing details

  • Need for brighter light to see

  • No changes to peripheral vision

New blood vessels form as cells break down. These vessels leak and quickly damage the tissue at the back of your eye. This less common form of macular degeneration causes severe vision loss.

Symptoms of wet macular degeneration include:

  • Colors look different in each eye

  • Dark gray spots in your vision

  • Distorted vision

  • Loss of central vision

  • Objects appear to be a different size with each eye

  • Trouble recognizing people’s faces

Diagnosing macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is diagnosed with an eye exam that may include:

An eye chart to see how well you can see at a distance and near.

Your eye care professional looks inside your eye to inspect the retina for any signs of macular degeneration or other eye problems.

A visual grid your eye doctor may have you look at to see if there is any distortion or lines missing, a possible sign of macular degeneration.

An ophthalmologist will perform this test by injecting a dye into your arm and taking pictures as the dye passes through the eye to gauge any fluid leakage, a possible sign of the wet rapidly, progressive type of macular degeneration.

A high-resolution test using light waves to image your eyes. The test takes only a few moments and is painless.

During your exam, your doctor will be looking for evidence of drusen deposits underneath your retina. Larger deposits is a sign of macular degeneration. Your doctor will also be looking for possible changes in your eye pigment underneath your retina. Areas of dark pigment clumping and other areas of loss of pigment is another sign of macular degeneration.

Treatments and research

How we slow your vision loss

Vision loss you experience from macular degeneration is irreversible, but treatments can slow the progression of loss. Your eye care team talks with you about the best care options for you.

Treatments for dry macular degeneration include:

  • High doses of nutrients such as vitamins C and E, lutein, zinc and zeaxanthine 

  • Low vision aids

Treatments for wet macular degeneration include:

  • Regular injections of a medicine called anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor)

  • Low vision aids

Helping you see better with research

The eye doctors at UW Health study the causes of macular degeneration to improve care for you. We also test new treatments, including injections to restore lost vision. Learn more

Meet our team

Comprehensive team-based eye care

The macular degeneration specialists at UW Health include experts in ophthalmology, optometry and retina, macula and vitreous diseases.

Patient and support services

What you need to know about macular degeneration

At UW Health, we provide education about macular degeneration.


Specialty eye care when you need it

Our eye care team provides macular degeneration care at UW Health clinics in Madison, Middleton, Janesville, Mauston and Prairie du Sac, and in Rockford and Freeport, Ill.