Macular degeneration - Complications 

Complications of macular degeneration 

Being told that you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can be frustrating and upsetting, as simple everyday tasks such as reading become more difficult.

You should speak to your GP if you are finding your macular degeneration is having a significant effect on your daily life. They should be able to put you in touch with local support groups who can provide guidance and practical help.

Alternatively, you could call the Macular Society helpline on 0300 3030 111 (lines are open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday), or the Royal National Institute for Blind People helpline on 0303 123 9999 (lines are open 8.45am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday).

Read more about help and support for visual impairment.

Depression and anxiety

Having to cope with losing part of your vision and coming to terms with the loss of some of your independence can be difficult and it can affect your mental health.

It is estimated that around a third of people with AMD may have some form of depression or anxiety.

If you are struggling with the changes to your life, you should speak to your GP or ophthalmologist (your eye specialist). They will be able to discuss treatment options with you, such as counselling, or they can refer you to a mental health professional for further assessment.

Driving

You will need to inform the DVLA and your insurance company if you drive and are diagnosed with AMD because the condition may affect your ability to drive.

If your eyesight is only minimally affected, it may still be safe for you to drive a vehicle. However, you may have to perform a series of sight tests to prove this. Central vision is very important for driving and if you do not meet the standards set by the DVLA, you will not be able to drive.

See macular degeneration and driving on GOV.UK for more information.

Visual hallucinations

Some people with macular degeneration can experience visual hallucinations caused by their low vision. This is known as Charles Bonnet syndrome. It is estimated that about one in every 10 people with AMD experience Charles Bonnet syndrome.

As AMD can prevent you from receiving as much visual stimulation as you are used to, your brain can sometimes compensate by creating fantasy images, or using images stored in your memory. These are known as hallucinations.

The hallucinations you experience may include unusual patterns or shapes, animals, faces or an entire scene. They can be either black and white or colour, and may last from a few minutes to several hours. They are usually pleasant images, although they may be unsettling and scary to experience.

Many people with Charles Bonnet syndrome do not tell their GP about their symptoms because they worry it may be a sign of a mental condition. However, the hallucinations that you experience with this syndrome are usually the result of a problem with your vision and not a reflection of your mental state.

Speak to your GP if you experience any kind of visual hallucination. There are ways they can help you learn how to cope with your hallucinations. The hallucinations will usually last for around 18 months, although for some people they may last years. 

If you would like to know more, the Macular Society has a leaflet on visual hallucinations (PDF, 123kb).


Page last reviewed: 08/11/2013

Next review due: 08/11/2015

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Living with low vision

Nearly two million people in the UK are affected by low vision, but with the right help their eyesight can be maximised