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Macular Degeneration and Glaucoma: What’s the Connection?

Last updated: May 2022

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, ahead of glaucoma and cataracts combined. People with macular degeneration do not usually go completely blind. However, they do have trouble seeing faces, driving, reading, writing, doing close work, or any other activity that requires sharp central vision.1

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages your optic nerve. It occurs when pressure builds up in the eye. This leads to the loss of side (peripheral) vision and blind spots. It causes no pain and can affect 1 or both eyes. Left untreated, it causes permanent blindness.2

There is no cure for either eye condition, but both can be treated, especially in the early stages. Early treatment can help protect your vision. This is especially important in people who have both conditions, since MD affects central vision and glaucoma affects side vision.3

Who has macular degeneration and glaucoma?

About 10 million people in the United States have some form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). About 3 million people have glaucoma. Doctors do not exactly how many people have both conditions. One small study in Sweden found 1 out of 5 of people enrolled had both AMD and glaucoma.1,3-5

A larger U.S. study found that people with glaucoma and a retinal disease like AMD had a 2-fold increase in blindness and low vision. Of 5,154 people in the study who had glaucoma, 297 had a form of macular degeneration. Diabetic retinopathy was much more common in these people.6

There are some similarities in who is more likely to develop AMD and glaucoma. Both conditions are more common in people who are:1,5

  • Over age 55 to 60
  • Have a family history of the disease

However, there are differences in who is more likely to develop AMD or glaucoma:1,5

  • AMD is more common in white people, while glaucoma is more common in Black people
  • People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to develop glaucoma
  • Smokers have double the risk of developing AMD

Recommended lifestyle changes overlap

If you have both macular degeneration and glaucoma, your doctor will probably suggest several lifestyle changes. How you eat, exercise, and live your daily life can contribute to better vision and mental health. The most common suggestions are:6

Visit your eye doctor regularly

Seeing your ophthalmologist on a regular schedule helps them closely follow your case. This allows your doctor to spot changes in your vision sooner. There is no cure for AMD or glaucoma, but early detection can preserve your sight for longer.6

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