How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?

The early warning signs of age-related macular degeneration can be challenging to detect. That is because they may not present with any noticeable vision changes. During an annual dilated eye exam, an eye doctor can identify the presence of drusen, small but visible accumulations of cellular waste on the retinal surface.

Changes in macula pigmentation can also be a sign of AMD. Although these signs are often present before any vision changes occur, it is best for individuals over 50 to undergo regular eye exams. These include a visual acuity test and an Amsler grid examination to detect the presence of AMD.


Macular Degeneration Symptoms


Macular degeneration symptoms can vary with the stage and type of the condition. Some common symptoms include the following:


  • Distorted or blurred central vision

  • Loss of color vision or contrast sensitivity

  • Difficulty recognizing familiar faces

  • Difficulty adapting to low-light environments

  • Straight lines appearing wavy

  • A dark or empty area in the center of the vision

  • Difficulty reading or performing tasks that require fine detail




One of the leading causes of visual loss in older persons is macular degeneration, often known as age-related macular degeneration. Early detection and diagnosis of AMD are crucial to slow or prevent its progression. Below are the methods used to diagnose this condition.


Dilated Eye Exam

Eye doctors detect the first signs of MD during an annual dilated eye exam. During this exam, they use special drops to dilate the pupils, allowing them to see the inside of the eye more clearly. They will look for the presence of drusen—tiny but visible heaps of cell waste on the retinal surface—and pigment changes in the macula. These signs are often present long before noticeable changes in a person's vision.


Visual Acuity Exam

A visual acuity exam is a standard screening test used to measure a person's ability to see small details at a distance. The test involves reading a chart with letters of decreasing size. This test can help detect early signs of macular degeneration.


Fundus Fluorescein Angiography

FFA is a diagnostic test that uses a special dye and a camera to take pictures of the back of the eye. The test involves injecting a yellow dye called fluorescein into a vein in the arm or hand and taking sequential photographs of the eye. The images show possible leakage and blood flow in the retina and choroid. That can help diagnose wet AMD.


Amsler Grid

An Amsler grid is a simple test used to check whether lines appear wavy or distorted or whether areas of the visual field are missing. The test involves looking at a grid with intersecting lines. If the lines appear distorted or areas of the grid are missing, it may indicate macular degeneration.


Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

This noninvasive imaging test uses light waves to create detailed retina images. It allows the doctor to evaluate the retina's thickness and detect abnormal fluid accumulation.


Genetic Testing

Eye doctors may use genetic testing to diagnose inherited forms of macular degeneration, such as Stargardt disease. This test analyzes a person's DNA to detect specific genetic mutations associated with the condition.


Fundus Autofluorescence

This noninvasive imaging test uses special filters to detect changes in the retina. Specific changes may indicate the presence of age-related macular degeneration.



It is important to note that macular degeneration often progresses slowly and may not cause symptoms in the early stages. Regular eye exams are essential for early detection and monitoring of the condition. Furthermore, some people may experience symptoms differently. So, it is always best to consult an eye doctor for a proper diagnosis.


For more information on macular degeneration diagnosis, call San Marcos Vision Center at our San Marcos, Texas, office. Call (512) 890-0660 to schedule an appointment today.

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