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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of visual impairment in the UK.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

The macula allows us to see fine detail for activities such as reading, recognising faces, watching television and driving. It also helps us to see colour.

As we get older, the macula (the central part of the retina responsible for detailed vision) can begin to break down, causing blurred vision.

The earliest sign of macular degeneration is often the appearance of small yellow deposits called drusen, which form under the retina. These are accumulated waste products which, as they get larger, stop the flow of nutrients to the retina and cause the layer of supporting cells beneath it to become very thin.

When cells in this layer die, the overlying macula degenerates and loses its visual function.

There are two main types of AMD

The extent of the degeneration may be different in each eye and may not progress at the same rate.


Dry AMD (atrophic macular degeneration) is the most common type of AMD, accounting for around 90% of all cases. The cells of the macula slowly break down, causing vision to become blurred.

Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be affected more in one eye than the other and it affects central rather than peripheral vision.

Over time, sometimes many years, the disease process can worsen, with more of the macula being affected. This advanced form is called geographic atrophy.


Wet AMD (exudative macular degeneration) accounts for around 10% of all AMD cases. It is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. These new blood vessels leak fluid into the retina and cause rapid onset of distorted vision and scarring at the back of the eye.

If left untreated this results in retinal tissue in the area being destroyed, leaving a large central blind spot. Macular degeneration cannot be reversed once this has occurred.

Most AMD patients start with the dry form with 10% of people developing the wet form. Although the wet type is less common it tends to be more aggressive, causing greater and more rapid visual loss.

Age Related Macular Degeneration

Treatment at Optegra has changed my life. Without them, I literally would have gone blind

AMD Patient, Optegra

Causes of age-related macular degeneration

The causes of age related macular degeneration (AMD) are currently unknown. However, researchers do know that the triggers are complex and are related to both hereditary and environmental factors.

Scientists are aware of what can increase your risk of developing macular degeneration. Some factors that can increase your risk of the eye condition are:

  • If you are over 65 years of age – age is the main risk factor for developing AMD
  • If you carry specific genes and you have a family history of the eye condition – although there is rarely a hereditary pattern, it is known that people with a family history of macular degeneration have an increased chance of developing the condition
  • If you are either a smoker or are regularly exposed to smoke – in a number of studies, smoking has been linked to the development of AMD. It has been shown that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of AMD developing.
  • If you have had a disease which affects your heart and blood vessels – studies have shown that high blood pressure is linked to the likelihood of developing AMD.
  • If your diet is low in fruit and vegetables but high in saturated fats –  research has shown that people who have a poor diet and have a low intake of antioxidants may be at an increased risk of developing AMD. Excessive alcohol consumption may also deplete the levels of antioxidants in the body.

If you are concerned about your chances of developing macular degeneration, get in touch with an eye doctor. An eye doctor will be able to provide you with the right information, and the best steps for you to take, to decrease your chances of developing macular generation.

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