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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

Age-Related Eye Diseases

Information on this page was gathered from the National Eye Institute’s website.  All photos are courtesy of National Eye Institute.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

A simulation of what someone with macular degeneration seesAge-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that blurs the sharp, central vision you need for “straight-ahead” activities such as reading, sewing, and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.

In some people, AMD advances so slowly that vision loss does not occur for a long time. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in one or both eyes. As AMD progresses, a blurred area near the center of vision is a common symptom. Over time, the blurred area may grow larger or you may develop blank spots in your central vision. Objects also may not appear to be as bright as they used to be.

AMD by itself does not lead to complete blindness, with no ability to see. However, the loss of central vision in AMD can interfere with simple everyday activities, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or do close work, such as cooking or fixing things around the house.

AMD is the most common cause of vision loss in individuals over 55.  An estimated 10 million people in the U.S. either have AMD or are at substantial risk of developing it.  For more information, visit the National Eye Institute’s description of macular degeneration.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Simulation of what someone with diabetic retinopathy sees

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease and a leading cause of blindness in American adults. It is caused by changes in the blood vessels of the retina.

In some people with diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels may swell and leak fluid. In other people, abnormal new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.

If you have diabetic retinopathy, at first you may not notice changes to your vision. But over time, diabetic retinopathy can get worse and cause vision loss. Diabetic retinopathy usually affects both eyes.  To learn more, visit the National Eye Institute’s page on diabetic retinopathy.


Simulation of what someone with glaucoma would seeGlaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States.  It is a group of diseases characterized by elevated pressure inside the eye that damages the retina causing progressive tunnel vision and, eventually, total blindness.

At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. It causes no pain. Vision stays normal. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.

Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision. As glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains.

Glaucoma testing is a standard part of an eye exam and should be done at least once a year.  Treatment is available if detected early.  Those of African-American and Asian descent are at higher risk than the general population.  To learn more, visit the National Eye Institute’s page on glaucoma.


Simulation of what someone with a cataract would see
Cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.

A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other.

Researchers suspect that there are several causes of cataract, such as smoking and diabetes. Or, it may be that the protein in the lens just changes from the wear and tear it takes over the years.  For more information, visit the National Eye Institute’s page on cataract.