Seeing vertical lines in vision as wavy, when they should appear straight, is a possible sign of macular degeneration.  Macular degeneration symptoms are important to be aware of as we age.  Macular degeneration (also know as age-related macular degeneration) is an eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of the field of vision due to retinal deterioration.  It is important to keep up with routine eye exams, because your eye care professional is likely to see signs of macular degeneration before you begin experiencing symptoms.  When symptoms do begin, they can include the following:

  • Blurry or “fuzzy” vision, which can include blurry areas on a printed page
  • Lines that should appear straight (such as sentences on a page) appearing wavy or distorted
  • Seeing vertical lines in vision that should appear straight appearing wavy, distorted, or missing
  • Lighting difficulties, which may include sensitivity to glare, or difficulty seeing print or fine details in low light levels
  • Difficulty seeing while driving
  • Dark, blurry, or whiteout areas in the central field of vision
  • Changes in color perception (rare)

Dry vs Wet Macular Degeneration

Most people with MD have the dry form, causing yellow deposits, known as drusen, on the macula.  However, dry macular degeneration may progress to wet MD, in which the blood vessels underneath the macula start leaking fluid and blood into the retina.  This leakage can cause more severe visual distortion, blind spots, and even permanent central vision loss.

Test for seeing vertical lines in vision accuracy: Amsler Grids to check for symptoms and disease progression

Amsler grids are sometimes given to patients once macular degeneration is diagnosed to check for symptoms at home.  Vision changes can include increased sensitivity to horizontal and vertical lines.  Here is a sample of what an Amsler grid looks like.

Amsler grid as seen with normal vision.

Amsler grid.

Amsler grid as seen with person with AMD. Test for seeing vertical lines in vision.

As seen with AMD.

For a person with macular degeneration, lines on the grid may appear wavy, distorted, or missing.  If you have been diagnosed with macular degeneration, it is important to check your vision daily and notify your eye care professional of any vision changes or new symptoms.Note: if you are interested in self-testing for macular degeneration, here is a link to a full-size printable Amsler grid, along with detailed instructions on how to complete the self-test for seeing vertical lines in vision.  Again, you should notify your eye care professional of any vision changes or distortions and keep up with regular eye exams.

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What are the causes of macular degeneration?

Although no scientific evidence exists on the precise cause of the disease, there are certain risk factors that may increase your chances of developing MD.  Risk factors for MD include age, environmental factors, and family history.

  1. Most people who develop macular degeneration are over the age of 50.
  2. MD diagnoses are most commonly seen in people of Caucasian decent.
  3. Cardiovascular disease may increase your chance of developing macular degeneration, and obesity may increase your chance of developing a more severe form of the disease.
  4. A family history of macular degeneration is often seen in those who are diagnosed.
  5. Finally, smoking also increases your chance of an MD diagnosis.

Patients with dry macular degeneration may see a progression to wet MD.  According to Mayo Clinic, about 10% of people with age-related macular degeneration have the wet form of the disease.  Wet MD can develop through abnormal blood vessel growth that interferes with the functioning of the retina, or through the build-up of fluid in the back of the eye that causes vision loss or distortion.

The importance of routine eye exams

Routine eye exams are crucial for early detection, treatment and prevention of eye disease.

Sometimes, macular degeneration can cause vision loss on only one eye.  The other eye compensates, masking the symptoms.

Here is an infographic summarizing some of the common symptoms of macular degeneration.  If you experience any sudden changes in vision, contact your eye doctor right away.

Common Symptoms of Macular Degeneration Infographic

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Learn More

This video describes the various symptoms of MD.

Last updated June 29, 2021.

Author Information

By Bethany Wyshak. Reviewed by Stuart Flom.

A lighting industry specialist, Stu Flom worked at Dolan-Jenner, a leader in fiberoptic lighting, for 15 years before launching his own company in 1994. As product manager, Stu helped find lighting solutions for clients in such diverse areas as photography, microscopy, robotics and automotive manufacturing. He was also involved in supplying the fiberoptics illuminating the Hope Diamond exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. A member of the International Society for Optics & Photonics (SPIE), Stu was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and is the author of several publications, including Integrating Optical Fibers in Machine Vision (Proceedings), Designing Fiber Optic Lighting for Machine Vision (Society of Manufacturing Engineers), and Light Up with Fiber Optics (Vision). Prior to his work in lighting, Stu was a special education teacher. Stu’s expertise in lighting and background in education form the backbone of his company. As AdaptiVision’s founder and president, Stu is dedicated to applying advanced lighting technology to assist people struggling with low vision, teaching them how to use technology to achieve greater independence.

Sources: American Academy of Ophthalmology (https://www.aao.org), Amerra Medical (https://www.amerra.com/), Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/), Vision Aware (https://visionaware.org/), WebMD (https://www.webmd.com), WebRN-MacularDegeneration.com (https://www.webrn-maculardegeneration.com/)

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