As you age, you might find your vision changing. While some changes might require nothing other than a pair of drugstore reading glasses, others could indicate something more serious.

Conditions that could damage your vision if they go undetected too long include:

Medical professionals screen for macular degeneration because it’s more common as you age. Macular degeneration affects the macula, a small part of the retina in the back of your eye. It’s the leading cause of blindness in older adults. About 11 million Americans of all ages are estimated to have it.

Regular eye exams are crucial for finding macular degeneration and other conditions early, before they lead to vision loss. One simple at-home option is an Amsler grid test. Read on to learn more about the test and what conditions it can help identify.

The Amsler grid is a square-shaped graph with uniform lines and a dot in the center. The grid will look distorted or nonuniform in center areas if you have certain conditions. Marc Amsler, a professor of ophthalmology in the Eye Clinic at the University of Zurich, developed the grid in the 1950s.

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Amsler grid.

Take the test by looking at the grid and following these instructions from the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  1. Hold it 12 to 15 inches from your face in good light. Wear any glasses you’d typically wear to read.
  2. Cover one eye.
  3. Look directly at the center dot with your uncovered eye and keep your eye focused on it.
  4. While looking directly at the center dot, notice in your side vision if all grid lines look straight or if any lines or areas look blurry, wavy, dark, or are missing.
  5. Follow the same steps with the other eye.
  6. Repeat once daily because macular degeneration causes tiny changes over time.

If any parts of the grid are missing or look blurry, wavy, distorted, or darker than the rest, contact an ophthalmologist as soon as possible for a checkup.

The Amsler grid test won’t find every vision problem you may have, but it can indicate some serious ones besides macular degeneration, including:

  • Central serous chorioretinopathy: This is a condition in which fluid builds up under your retina and can cause it to detach, causing vision loss.
  • Development of choroidal neovascular membrane: This defect is associated with many conditions, including macular degeneration, presumed ocular histoplasmosis syndrome, and myopic macular degeneration.
  • Macular pucker: Also known as an epiretinal membrane, it can cause distortions in your central field of vision due to a thin layer of scar tissue that forms inside the retina.
  • Acute macular neuroretinopathy: This is a rare condition that most commonly affects young women.
  • Cystoid macular edema: Cystoid macular edema develops when blood vessels in your retina leak fluid into the macula, causing it to swell.
  • Nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy: This condition happens when blood flow to the optic nerve is lost.
  • Pituitary tumor: A pituitary tumor may put too much pressure on your optic nerves, causing vision loss. This usually causes peripheral vision loss
  • Macular sparing: This occurs when you lose your vision everywhere except in the center. this is a description and not a diagnosis or disease.

Risk factors for age-related macular degeneration

A 2016 study of almost 4,000 people found that the risk of having early macular degeneration was highest among white people, lowest among Black people, and moderate among those of Asian descent.

However, all of the people in the study were diagnosed with atherosclerosis, a risk factor for the condition, and more research is needed.

You’re more likely to develop macular degeneration if you:

  • smoke
  • eat a diet high in saturated fat
  • have hypertension
  • have a family history of the condition
  • are overweight
  • are older than 60
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Early detection is important in preventing and treating vision loss. You can take the Amsler grid test at home, but regular checkups can uncover other potential vision problems and health conditions. If some conditions aren’t identified early, they could lead to conditions such as cataracts, eye complications from diabetes, and glaucoma.

You can take the Amsler grid test at home every day to identify small changes in your vision that indicate a problem. The test isn’t a substitute for regular eye exams, which can uncover a variety of conditions before they get worse.