Diagnosing macular disease

The optometrist at your local optician’s practice can test sight, prescribe glasses and check for eye disease.

Some optometrists use photography or other imaging to detect early signs of macular degeneration. These might include optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans which create cross-sectional images of the retina.

You may be charged for these tests.

Wet and dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

There is currently no treatment available for dry AMD so you might not be referred to hospital, unless confirmation of the diagnosis is required or the optometrist thinks you need a hospital low vision service.

If your sight has worsened and you would like to be registered as sight impaired you will need a hospital appointment.

If your optometrist suspects you have wet AMD, you should be referred to a retinal specialist at a hospital directly and seen within one to two weeks. If applicable, you should be treated within two weeks after initial identification.

You should not be sent to your GP. This causes unnecessary delay.

Hospital tests

At hospital further tests will confirm the diagnosis. The specialist may use:

  • Eye drops to dilate the pupils to see the back of the eye clearly. These may make your vision blurred and sensitive to light for a short time, so consider taking someone with you.
  • OCT scans can detect the early signs of retinal eye conditions and diseases, earlier than standard examination techniques – perhaps even before you have symptoms.
  • Fluorescein dye angiography. A dye injected into a vein in the arm travels to the eye, highlighting the blood vessels in the retina so they can be photographed. The dye will temporarily change the colour of your urine, so be prepared.

Genetic testing

If it is suspected you have a macular dystrophy, you might be offered a genetic test. A genetic test usually involves having a blood sample taken.

DNA is extracted from blood cells and analysed in the laboratory. The analysis involves looking very carefully at the genetic code to try and identify the genetic alteration that is causing the condition. Many people have the genetic cause identified, although it’s not always possible.

Have you got questions about tests, diagnosis or your condition?

Call the Macular Society Helpline on 0300 3030 111 or help@macularsociety.org

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Regular eye tests are an important health check for everyone. You should have an eye test every two years or as often as recommended by your optician, even if you don’t have any problems with your sight.

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Optical coherence tomography (OCT) link arrow

Discover how optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans can detect eye conditions early, with non-invasive imaging.

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Learn how fluorescein angiography is used to study what is happening at the back of your eye and diagnose eye conditions. Understand the procedure and potential side effects.

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Explore valuable information about genetic testing for inherited macular conditions and find support from Macular Society for your family's well-being.

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Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is a medication used to treat several conditions. Find out how this medication may have an increased risk of damage to the retina and what you can do if you are worried.

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Wonder if you might be at risk? link arrow

Answer just five simple questions and we'll estimate your risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Last review date: 03 2022

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