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Macular Degeneration vs. Glaucoma: What to Know

Medically Reviewed By Leela Raju, MD

Macular degeneration and glaucoma can both result in vision changes, but they have different underlying causes. Macular degeneration occurs when the central part of the retina, the macula, becomes damaged. Glaucoma occurs as the result of damage to the optic nerve. If you notice any changes in your vision, contact an eye doctor. They can provide a diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Read on to learn more about macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Causes

A closeup of an older adult's eyes
Simone Wave/Stocksy United

Macular degeneration and glaucoma are caused by different factors.

Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration occurs when the macula deteriorates over time. The macula is responsible for your central vision, which allows you to see objects right in front of you.

Though the exact cause of macular degeneration is not fully understood, several risk factors may influence its development, including Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • having a family history of macular degeneration
  • advancing age
  • smoking
  • underlying chronic conditions like high blood pressure
  • a diet lacking in nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals like copper

Macular degeneration is split into two main types, dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration involves a gradual thinning or wearing down of the macula due to buildups of waste products in the retina. It can become Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source wet macular degeneration, which occurs when atypical blood vessels grow under the retina and leak fluid.

Learn more about the difference between dry and wet macular degeneration.

Glaucoma

Like macular degeneration, the exact cause of glaucoma is unknown.

However, a common type of glaucoma called primary open-angle glaucoma is often related to Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a gradual buildup of pressure within the eye. This increased intraocular pressure strains the optic nerve, which passes visual information to your brain, and damages it.

Some other forms of glaucoma, such as acute angle-closure glaucoma, can be triggered by a blockage in the eye’s drainage channel, resulting in a sudden increase Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source in eye pressure.

While the causes of macular degeneration and glaucoma differ, both conditions can significantly affect your vision, leading to Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source vision loss if left untreated.

Learn 10 things eye doctors want you to know about glaucoma.

Symptoms

Macular degeneration and glaucoma are both degenerative eye diseases, but they affect different parts of the visual system and therefore have some distinct symptoms.

Macular degeneration

People with early macular degeneration may not experience Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source any symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms may include:

  • difficulty reading or performing tasks that require fine detail
  • dark or empty spaces in the center of the visual field
  • blurred or distorted central vision
  • straight lines looking wavy
  • decreased intensity or brightness of colors

Glaucoma

In the early stages of glaucoma, there may be no noticeable symptoms Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:

  • gradual loss of peripheral vision
  • blurred or hazy vision
  • difficulty seeing in dim lighting conditions, such as in poorly lit rooms
  • seeing halos or rainbow-colored rings around lights

People with acute angle-closure glaucoma may also experience Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source sudden and severe eye pain and headache.

If you notice any vision changes, contact an eye doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Diagnosis

To diagnose either macular degeneration or glaucoma, an eye doctor will perform a comprehensive eye examination and a series of tests.

Macular degeneration

In macular degeneration, the diagnosis typically involves a comprehensive eye exam, which includes a visual acuity test to assess central vision and a dilated eye examination to examine the retina.

Your doctor may also perform Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source additional tests, such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) or fluorescein angiography, to obtain detailed images of the macula and its blood vessels.

Glaucoma

A glaucoma diagnosis requires specific tests to evaluate the optic nerve, measure eye pressure, and evaluate peripheral vision.

These tests may include Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source :

  • tonometry to measure intraocular pressure
  • ophthalmoscopy to examine the optic nerve
  • visual field tests to assess peripheral vision

In addition, your doctor may also perform imaging tests like OCT or scanning laser polarimetry to examine the optic nerve structure and the thickness of the retinal nerve fiber layer.

Check out our glaucoma appointment guide to learn more about questions you may be asked or may want to ask at your eye appointment.

Treatments

Treatment plans for macular degeneration and glaucoma have some similarities and some key differences.

Macular degeneration

The treatment options for macular degeneration depend on the type you have and how far it has progressed. Treatment aims to slow down the progression and manage the symptoms.

People with dry macular degeneration may benefit from:

  • eating a balanced and nutritious diet that typically includes foods like fruits and vegetables, per your doctor’s instructions
  • avoiding smoking if you smoke
  • getting regular physical activity
  • taking a combination of supplements Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , including vitamins C and E

Learn more about foods to eat or limit for macular degeneration.

Treatments for wet macular degeneration may also include Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source laser treatments and anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections, which help to block the growth of new blood vessels and reduce leakage.

Learn more about preventing further vision loss caused by macular degeneration.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma treatment focuses on lowering the pressure in the eye to slow or prevent damage to the optic nerve. According to the National Eye Institute Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source , treatment options for glaucoma may include:

  • Eye drops: Doctors often prescribe these medications to reduce intraocular pressure by decreasing fluid production or increasing fluid drainage from the eye.
  • Laser treatment: Laser procedures, such as selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) and laser peripheral iridotomy (LPI), may improve fluid drainage within the eye and reduce intraocular pressure.
  • Surgery: In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgical interventions like trabeculectomy or tube shunt surgery to create a new drainage channel for fluid in the eye.

Summary

Macular degeneration and glaucoma are eye conditions that may lead to vision loss if left untreated. If you notice any changes in your vision, contact an eye doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Leela Raju, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Dec 19
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