What the World Looks Like With Wet AMD
When you struggle with your vision, simple things get tricky in a hurry. Here’s how the disease affects your sight (and what you can do about it).
Maybe you’ve been noticing changes in your vision, like blurriness or distortion. Maybe you’re over 50 years old, and maybe you’re also overweight, love a good steak or burger, smoke cigarettes, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of eye disorders. All of these are risk factors for a chronic eye condition called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. AMD happens when a part of your retina—called the macula—becomes damaged, impacting central vision. There are two types: dry AMD, the more common version, which has slow loss of central vision, and wet AMD, the more severe type with faster central vision loss.
The not-great news? Currently, there’s no cure for either type, although there is treatment for wet AMD that halts vision loss and can even improve vision in up to 40% of patients—especially in those who start treatment early. “The number one prognostic sign for the visual outcome in wet AMD is your vision on the day you’re diagnosed,” says Frank Siringo, M.D., O.D., chief of vitreoretinal diseases and surgery at Omni Eye Specialists in Denver, CO. The sooner you identify symptoms and get diagnosed, he says, the better.
So what are those symptoms? It can be a little confusing since the disease doesn’t always impact both eyes (you might be able to close one eye and see just fine), and you can still see to the sides, so you’re not totally blind. Plus, vision loss changes as the condition progresses. Still there are some telltale indications that wet AMD may be in play. Here’s what your world might look like, through a wet AMD lens.
Wet AMD can reduce your ability to recognize the faces of even your most beloved. “When you’re looking right at someone’s face, it’s really all central vision, and there can be a combination of blur and blind spots, as well as distortion,” Dr. Siringo explains. These visual changes can be glaring because seeing people is everything. “Faces are so important in terms of our relation to people that it’s a striking change from normal,” he says. “It affects how we interact with and how we read other people’s emotions, and how we communicate.”
Reading a book or paying your bills is second-nature until wet AMD strikes. Then suddenly, these activities can highlight where your macula is damaged, leaving you with blurriness, strange distortions, or blind spots, Dr. Siringo says. Since in English, we read a page from left to right, you’ll likely start off seeing the words OK, then as your eyes move to the middle of the page, they will track into a blind spot or distorted area immediately in front of you. Your vision will once again improve as you read toward the right side of the page.
It’s no joke to have vision trouble when you’re behind the wheel, but if you have wet AMD, there’s a high probability you’ll struggle to see clearly. You might have trouble seeing the road in front of as you drive because of blurred central vision, for instance, but you’ll have no trouble seeing out the side window without turning your head. It can take a while to realize you’re experiencing vision trouble driving, since many objects are far away anyway, and we’re used to using side mirrors and the like to support our central vision in the car. Still, vision loss while driving is cause for real concern, says Dr. Siringo.
With everyone on their smart phone these days, tasks like dialing and texting operate in a small, limited space. That spells trouble with wet AMD, since it’s the act of looking right in front of you that makes it hardest to see. You might not be able to see all the apps on your phone or the “on” button for your tablet (but you can see the tablet itself). Or you might miss the centrally located icons on your computer’s desktop when you’re looking at them straight on. Just like with reading, these near vision tasks can highlight wet AMD visual loss acutely.
Navigating your home—once something you never thought twice about—becomes a challenge with this disease. For instance, going down stairs, even ones you’ve walked a million times in your house, can be tricky because they looks distorted when they are right in front of you (look at them sideways and they’re fine, something people commonly learn to do with wet AMD that can help, says Dr. Siringo). Or maybe looking at your window blinds feels like you’re in a fun house—they’re wavy instead of straight (like you know they should be!). These visual distortions can happen with wet AMD.
Thanks to a loss in color distinction, the kitchen can spell trouble for people with wet AMD. You might not be able to see the knife or produce as you cut up vegetables, especially if those vegetables are the same color as the cutting board. Or maybe you can’t distinguish your dinner plate from the counter, spilling food everywhere. This can happen when photoreceptor cone cells in the macula, weakened by the disease, no longer send signals to the brain about color. Colors can become muted, or their intensity decreased, as a result. Blue, green, and red typically remain the easiest to see. Take care when cooking with wet AMD vision loss, says Dr. Siringo, but you don’t always have to give it up—ask your doctor about working with a low vision specialist to help you regain your kitchen safety know-how.
A combination of wet AMD symptoms can make walking outside your home with this disease tricky, whether on a sidewalk, hiking trail, or elsewhere. Maybe you keep bumping into people right in front of you on a city street, or tripping over rocks and roots in nature—despite your friend saying, “they’re right in front of you!” Or maybe you struggle when there is an elevation change—be it steps or steep trail inclines. Blurry vision or well-defined blind spots prevent you from seeing right in front of you from wet AMD, and the washing out of colors can make subtle terrain changes blend together.
- About AMD: American Academy of Ophthalmology. (2021). “What You Should Know About Macular Degeneration.” aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/six-things-about-amd
- AMD Treatment: Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. (2018). “Age-Related Macular Degeneration: New Paradigms for Treatment and Management of AMD.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5816845/
- AMD Symptoms: BMJ Open Ophthalmology. (2019). “Patient-reported reasons for delay in diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration: a national survey.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6830468/
- Colors and AMD: Prevent Blindness. (2007). “Color Perception and Macular Degeneration.” lowvision.preventblindness.org/2007/11/25/color-perception-and-macular-degeneration