Age-related macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) usually affects people over 50 but can happen earlier. Macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, with AMD affecting around 600,000 people, around half of whom are registered as visually impaired.

The older we are, the greater our risk of developing the condition. Around one in every 200 people has AMD at 60. However, by the age of 90 it affects one person in five. We are, on average, living longer so the number of people affected is increasing.

There are two forms of AMD – dry and wet.

Dry age- related macular degeneration

Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a gradual deterioration of the macula as the retinal cells die off and are not renewed.

Wet age-related macular degeneration

Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) develops when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula. These leak blood or fluid which leads to scarring of the macula and rapid loss of central vision.

Causes of age-related macular degeneration

The cause of AMD is not known but there are a number of factors associated with the development of the condition.

Age

Age is the main risk factor. As we age, cell regeneration reduces. This increases the risk of developing the condition.

Genetics

A family history of macular degeneration will increase your chances of developing AMD.

Smoking

Smoking damages blood vessels and the structure of the eye. Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop macular degeneration than non-smokers. If you also have a particular common gene for AMD you are twenty times more likely to develop the condition if you smoke. Stopping smoking after you have developed AMD can also help reduce the risk of your eye condition getting worse. For more information on how smoking can increase the risk of developing AMD, please see our Smoking and sight loss page.

Diet

A poor diet low in fruit and vegetables may increase the risk of AMD. Antioxidants and other substances in fruit and vegetables protect the body against the effects of ‘free radicals’. These are unstable molecules that damage cells or prevent cell repair.

Alcohol destroys antioxidants. Obesity and a diet with lots of sugars and hydrogenated or saturated fats also increases the risk of developing AMD. You can read more about this by seeing our Nutrition page.

Blood pressure

People with high blood pressure are one and a half times more likely to have AMD than those with normal blood pressure.

Gender

AMD affects men and women equally. Women typically live longer than men, so more women are diagnosed with AMD.

For practical advice on your condition or for more information, call the Advice and Information Service on 0300 3030 111 or email help@macularsociety.org