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Living Well with Geographic Atrophy

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The Basics of Eye Health with Dry AMD

Medically Reviewed By Grace Zhang, MD

Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition among older adults and a leading cause of vision loss. Working with your healthcare team may help you slow its progression.

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition among older adults and a leading cause of vision loss. It occurs when the macula, the part of the eye responsible for clear, central vision, becomes damaged.

Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition. Wet AMD, which is more serious and leads to faster vision loss, is less common than dry AMD.

Knowing the risk factors for dry AMD may help you feel confident about your eye health.

What is dry AMD?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reports that about 80% of the people with AMD have the dry form. Dry AMD is classified by stages: early, intermediate, and late. Having dry AMD means the macula has thinned, allowing clumps of a protein called drusen to form in the retina.

Some people with dry AMD experience only a buildup of drusen. However, dry AMD may also harm a part of the retina called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). The RPE is a layer of cells that helps ensure the eye’s photoreceptor cells remain healthy and detect light. Problems with the RPE can lead to vision loss.

Advanced dry AMD may also lead to geographic atrophy (GA), a condition in which tissue is damaged in the retina, macula, and other parts of the eye. GA, which affects about 1 million Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source people in the United States, can lead to irreversible central vision loss.

Even if your dry AMD symptoms do not advance to GA, you may still experience some central vision loss as the condition progresses.

What are dry AMD symptoms?

You may not notice any symptoms with early stage dry AMD. However, at the intermediate stage, you may notice slight blurriness in your central vision and have a harder time seeing clearly in low light.

By late stage dry AMD, the symptoms are usually unavoidable. Central vision is blurry and the affected portion of your vision will become larger. You may even notice blank spots in your central vision. Colors look faded, and seeing them in low light can become difficult. 

If you notice that straight lines start to look wavy or crooked, the National Eye Institute Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source suggests that this is often a sign the condition has advanced to late stage dry AMD.

Risk Factors

The causes of dry AMD aren’t well understood. Genetics and environment may play a role. However, there are some factors that appear to raise the risk of developing the condition. As the name suggests, age-related macular degeneration primarily affects older adults. Being over age 50 is a major risk factor. Others include:

  • a diet with a lot of saturated fat
  • family history of AMD
  • high blood pressure
  • overweight or obesity
  • smoking

Managing risk factors, especially smoking and high blood pressure, is also eseential even if dry AMD has developed in one or both eyes.

Next steps

There is currently no cure for dry AMD, but there are steps you can take at any stage to help preserve your eye health. You can work with your doctor to consider whether nutritional supplements are right for you. A study by the National Eye Institute, known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS 2) Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source , suggests taking a combination of vitamins and minerals may help people lower the risk of developing wet AMD.

The AREDS 2 Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source formula includes:

  • vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 500 mg
  • vitamin E 400 international units (IU)
  • lutein 10 mg
  • zeaxanthin 2 mg
  • zinc (as zinc oxide) 80 mg  
  • copper (as cupric oxide) 2 mg

A 2017 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that nutritional support is critical at the intermediate stage of dry AMD, and appointments with an ophthalmologist can be scheduled every 6 months to look out for signs the disease may be progressing to late stage AMD.

Following a balanced diet is also essential if you have late stage dry AMD, though there is no prescribed treatment for this stage of the disease.

Management of GA is particularly challenging, as it occurs in the later stages of dry AMD. A 2024 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that early diagnosis and intervention are crucial to slowing or reducing vision loss and boosting quality of life with GA.

GA treatment options did receive a boost in 2023, with the approval of two medications: pegcetacoplan (Syfovre) and avacincaptad pegol (Izervay). Each drug works a little differently, but they are both administered by injection into the affected eye once every month or two.

Takeaway

Dry AMD may affect only one eye, so you may not notice vision changes right away. Over time, however, both eyes are likely to be affected. Consuming the AREDS formula of vitamins and minerals may help delay vision problems, and new medications may help slow the progress of a late stage type of dry AMD called geographic atrophy.

If you are diagnosed with dry AMD, understand that total vision loss may not occur. Instead, you may consider certain low-vision aids to help with everyday tasks and make other lifestyle adjustments. It will also be necessary to see your ophthalmologist regularly to monitor your condition and see a retina specialist if your dry AMD advances to the late stage.

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Medical Reviewer: Grace Zhang, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 1
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