Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a condition that affects the central vision of the eye, making it blurred instead of sharp. There are a handful of risk factors for macular degeneration, one of which is a hereditary component.

There are different stages of macular degeneration, with the early stages having little to no symptoms. The rate of the condition’s progression varies and impacts one or both eyes.

The Macula

The macula is the oval-shaped, pigmented part of the retina. Located at the center of the retina, it’s only 5mm in width and responsible for our central vision and a majority of color vision. There are six sections of the macula — the umbo, foveal, avascular zone, fovea, parafovea and perifovea.1

Due to its yellow color, which is from lutein and zeaxanthin, the macula helps protect the retina from the excess blue and UV light that enters it.1

macular degeneration hereditary

Macular Degeneration

When the macula is damaged, the center of the vision is impacted. An individual with macular damage still maintains peripheral vision, resulting in vision that resembles the below.

It is believed that AMD is a result of an issue with intensive metabolic processes, according to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. This process occurs within the sensory cells of the retina and releases by-products that should be broken down. When these by-products are not broken down, drusen forms — small deposits which prevent the proper amount of oxygen and nutrients from reaching the retina.

  • In dry AMD, light sensitive cells in the retina begin to die and pigments under the retina may change.
  • In wet AMD, blood vessels begin growing underneath the retina, potentially becoming leaky and lifting the retina.2

Stages of Macular Degeneration

stages of macular degenerationAge-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) consists of three stages:

Early-Stage AMD: no loss of vision; medium-sized drusen deposits begin to form but there is no pigment changes2

Intermediate AMD: mild vision loss is possible; large drusen forms and pigment changes occur2

Late-stage AMD: vision loss occurs — individuals may lose ability to read or see faces; could be in the dry or wet form of macular degeneration2

When it comes to the stages of macular degeneration, wet AMD progresses much faster than dry AMD. Individuals with dry AMD are less likely to experience loss of vision.

Wet Vs. Dry Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration usually begins with dry AMD which is the most common form. At around the age of 50, drusen may begin to form under the macula, and for those with dry AMD, these drusen deposits are larger and more frequent. There are several factors which impact and individual’s risk of dry AMD, from hereditary factors to age, weight and smoking.2

Wet macular degeneration is a more serious form of AMD, with one in 10 cases of dry AMD progress to wet AMD. In this form, the blood vessels growing under the retina leak fluid that may cause swelling and scarring of the macula, resulting in blurry vision or blinding in the central vision, along with loss of color vision. The progression of wet vs. dry macular degeneration is much faster and the impacts to vision are more severe.2

Managing Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The damage caused by macular degeneration cannot be reversed, but you can manage it and prevent or slow the progression. Below are lifestyle and diet changes to make to help manage macular degeneration:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases the likelihood of developing macular degeneration. If you are a smoker, it is important to quit to help manage AMD.3
  • Maintain a healthy diet: Leafy greens, orange and yellow peppers and other vegetables contain carotenoids which keep the macula healthy and may help manage AMD. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids also help maintain eye health.3
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases the risk of macular degeneration, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight to help slow the progression of AMD.3
  • Take eye health supplements: Eye vitamins containing the AREDS2 formulation are meant to treat macular degeneration. Thee EyeScience Macular Health Formula merges the best of AREDS and AREDS2 studies with the optimal dose of zinc, naturally occurring vitamin E and the most stable form of Lutein.
  • Protect your eyes: preventing sun damage to the eyes is very important. Be sure to wear UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat when outdoors to prevent sun damage of the eyes.3

Each person’s journey with AMD is different based on hereditary and risk factors and their type of wet vs. dry macular degeneration. The most important thing is to take the appropriate steps to prevent and/or slow the progression. It is never to early to prioritize your eye health. If your family history includes age-related macular degeneration, begin taking the steps now to prevent the condition from impacting your life through both lifestyle changes and by taking the appropriate vitamins and supplements for eye health.

1 VeryWell Health
2 Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care
3 NYU Langone Health