Dry macular degeneration is one of the two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a leading cause of permanent vision loss in older adults.

Macular degeneration develops over time from age as the macula — part of the retina — wears down. The macula is responsible for our central vision, allowing us to see shapes and details.

Dry AMD is the most common type, accounting for around 70 to 90 percent of all AMD cases, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While vision loss from dry AMD isn’t reversible, you can manage symptoms with nutritional supplements and low vision aids. Medication and laser treatments can slow or even reverse wet AMD.

Read on to learn who is at risk of developing dry AMD, what the symptoms and stages look like, and how you can manage the condition.

Dry AMD is a progressive disease, so symptoms typically get worse over time. Generally, the condition is split into stages depending on the symptoms you may be experiencing and your degree of vision loss.

Sometimes, the onset of dry AMD is quite slow. Making sure you go to regular eye exams and checkups can help identify dry AMD before you even experience symptoms.

Early stage

Early-stage dry AMD usually develops with no symptoms at all.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition after seeing drusen during an examination. Drusen are yellow deposits under the retina made up of lipids (fats) and proteins. When drusen build up in the retina, they cause damage to the retinal cells in the macula. This interferes with the cells’ ability to process light, and may cause vision blurring.

Having drusen doesn’t necessarily mean you have AMD, as these can occur with age in many people. However, large drusen are a defining feature of dry AMD. Soft drusen have higher risk of causing visual impairment than hard drusen. And drusen close to the center of the macula are more damaging than those around the edges of the retina.

Not everyone who has early stage dry AMD progresses to later stages. Some people with AMD maintain solid vision throughout their life.

Intermediate stage

The intermediate stage of dry AMD may bring about noticeable symptoms. At this stage, drusen have grown to a medium or large size and you may start to notice blurring in the center of your vision. You may also notice that you require more light or contrast to read or perform tasks. You may notice metamorphopsia- referring to vision changes where straight lines can appear wavy or curved.

People in the intermediate stage are at increased risk of progressing to severe dry AMD.

Late stage

The advanced stage of dry AMD is also known as geographic atrophy. By this point, large areas of tissue in the retina are damaged causing blind spots in the center of your vision. You may retain some peripheral vision, but most people in this stage have trouble reading, and recognizing other people’s faces.

You may also see large blank areas in your central vision at this stage. Straight lines that appear wavy is also a sign of medium to late-stage dry AMD. This symptom can be tested for with a simple visual tool called the Amsler Grid. Doctors often advise patients to monitor their AMD (at any stage) by testing themselves regularly with the Amsler Grid.

The primary cause of dry AMD is age. Over time, many of the tissues in your body lose volume and elasticity, becoming more brittle and less functional. Scar tissue can form, or wastes accumulate, making it more difficult for the cells of those tissues to do their job.

This is the case for AMD, which develops over time as your retinal tissues become damaged or destroyed.

The 2 types of AMD, dry and wet, are categorized separately according to how they develop. Dry AMD is more common and less treatable, often progressing over a longer period of time. Wet AMD can develop suddenly in patients that have dry AMD, and usually causes rapid vision loss, but this can be slowed and reversed with treatment.

Wet AMD develops when blood vessels grow underneath the retina . These abnormal blood vessels can leak fluid, fats, and blood where they form behind the retina, causing scar tissue and destroying the function of the retinal cells. Wet AMD may also be called neovascular AMD or exudative AMD.

Wet AMD is treated with a combination of anti-VEGF injections, light and laser therapies.

Learn more about the differences between dry and wet AMD.

Can dry AMD turn into wet AMD?

Yes, any stage of dry AMD can become wet AMD. All cases of AMD start as the dry form. Around 10-15 percent of people with dry AMD will progress to wet AMD.

There is no cure for AMD, but there are many treatment options depending on your type and stage. Once your doctor detects a drusen or signs of dry AMD, they will monitor your progress with regular eye exams.

AREDS supplements

Once your AMD has progressed to the intermediate stage, specific nutritional supplements may be offered to you. The National Eye Institute (NEI) studied the effects of different supplements on eye health through Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), specifically focusing on cataracts and AMD. They found a combination of certain vitamin and mineral supplements helped lower the risk of progression toward advanced AMD by around 25 percent.

This means that while AREDS and AREDS2 supplement regimens won’t cure your dry AMD, they may help you hold onto better vision for longer.

Here is a breakdown of both AREDS formulas:

NutrientAREDS formulaAREDS2 formula
vitamin C500 mg500 mg
vitamin E400 IU400 IU
beta carotene15 mg
copper (cupric oxide)2 mg2 mg
lutein10 mg
zeaxanthin2 mg
zinc80 mg80 mg

AREDS formulas are commercially available. Always talk with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet. The first AREDS formula is not recommended for current and former smokers since beta carotene may increase lung cancer risk.

Low vision aids

Late stage dry AMD management usually consists of using low vision aids to help you maximize the vision you have.

These include:

  • sunglasses for UV protection
  • magnifiers when reading
  • using brighter overhead lights or lamps
  • screen readers or other assistive technologies

Emotional support

Experiencing vision change or loss can be distressing and difficult. Some people with AMD may struggle to see faces of loved ones, no longer be safe to drive, and have to step away from hobbies.

It’s important you have sufficient emotional support, and safe spaces to process how you’re feeling. Know that it’s okay to ask for help, and consider reaching out to a therapist, or seeking a support group.

Explore the benefits and options of therapy.

Anyone can develop wet or dry AMD, but age is the most significant risk factor.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), other risk factors of AMD in addition to age include:

You have a higher risk of AMD if it runs in your family, specifically if a parent of a sibling has AMD. There’s some evidence that AMD might be caused by genetic mutations, but research is still underway.

Studies show that older white people are at the highest risk of developing AMD, but the causes are unclear.

Lowering your risk of AMD involves taking good care of your eyes and eye health in general.

This includes:

Learn more about the best foods for eye health.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common cause of vision loss in older adults. The dry form of AMD is the most common, and has no effective treatment, although management is possible. AREDS nutritional supplements and low vision aids can help you maximize the vision you have.

Dry AMD often causes no symptoms in the early stages. Regular vision screenings are be the best tool for prompt recognition and management. Taking steps to maintain you overall eye health- such as using sun protection and eating a balanced diet- may also lower your chance of developing AMD.

Talk to your eye doctor about your AMD risk factors, especially if it runs in your family, or about any vision changes you’re experiencing.

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nei.nih.gov/research/clinical-trials/age-related-eye-disease-studies-aredsareds2/about-areds-and-areds2

American Academy of Ophthalmology. (2022.) What is Macular Degeneration?
https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/amd-macular-degeneration

American Macular Degeneration Foundation. (n.d.) Dry vs Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration
https://www.macular.org/dry-vs-wet-macular-degeneration

Boyd K. (2020). Have AMD? Save Your Sight with an Amsler Grid. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/facts-about-amsler-grid-daily-vision-test

Chang MA, et al. (2008). Racial Differences and Other Risk Factors for Incidence and Progression of Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Salisbury Eye Evaluation (SEE) Project. https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2125899

Common eye disorders and disease. (2020).
cdc.gov/visionhealth/basics/ced/index.html

Gehrs KM, et al. (2016). Age-related macular degeneration—emerging pathogenetic and therapeutic concepts. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853957/

Low vision. (2020).
nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/low-vision

National Institutes of Health. (2021.) Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration

Porter D. (2022). What are drusen?
aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-drusen

Ruia S, Kaufman EJ. (2022.) Macular Degeneration. StatPearls.
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