Geographic Atrophy: Signs and Symptoms

Geographic Atrophy: Signs and Symptoms


Geographic atrophy (GA) causes vision loss that begins in the outer retina and extends across the eye over time. This condition is a late-stage form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Most people who develop AMD do so because they are older. As you age, you have a higher risk of experiencing damage to the part of the retina that helps you see right in front of you and creates sharpness in your central vision.

It’s estimated that about 160,000 people receive a GA diagnosis per year. Unfortunately, GA can cause significant challenges, making it difficult to complete everyday activities due to reduced visual abilities.

If you are experiencing symptoms of GA (e.g., blurry spots or poor night vision), it’s important to see a healthcare provider for support. Without treatment, GA can lead to central vision loss and legal blindness. But, treatments can help slow down the progression of this disease.

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If you receive a geographic atrophy diagnosis, you are likely already experiencing advanced vision symptoms. That’s because early-stage AMD or GA may not produce any noticeable symptoms. Some people do experience early warning signs, however. These symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty seeing objects in low light
  • Trouble reading with dim lighting

Because early symptoms of geographic atrophy can go unnoticed, it’s essential to see your eye care provider (e.g., optometrist or ophthalmologist) for yearly vision exams. These tests can detect changes in your vision and overall eye health.

As GA progresses, you’ll likely start experiencing more advanced symptoms. You may notice that:

  • Lines look wavy or crooked
  • The center of your vision appears blurry
  • Colors appear dull
  • It’s hard to see things at night
  • Objects appear less sharp or low contrast

Over time, blurriness in your vision can worsen, and you may need more light to see properly. GA symptoms can progress rapidly, so getting early treatment is essential.

Because GA progresses so quickly, it’s possible to become legally blind in the end-stage of the condition. Before you lose your central vision completely, you may notice that your vision loss is interfering with several daily activities, such as:

  • Reading
  • Driving
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Recognizing faces
  • Watching television
  • Walking safely
  • Seeing your phone screen correctly

Treatments in the end stage are less likely to slow down the progression of GA. That said, if you or a loved one are experiencing vision changes, it’s important to seek treatment from an eye care provider sooner rather than later, as this can prevent symptoms of GA from moving too quickly.

Many people with vision problems, such as geographic atrophy, experience some level of distress or depression due to their reduced ability to see. It can be difficult and frustrating to ask for support or depend on someone else when you undergo a life-changing experience like vision loss. If you or a loved one with GA are developing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or a general loss of emotional well-being, seeing a mental health care provider may help.

GA can also increase your risk of developing Charles Bonnet syndrome (CBS)—a condition that causes visual hallucinations in people with vision loss. These hallucinations aren’t due to a psychological cause. If you develop hallucinations alongside vision problems, it’s important to tell your eye care provider so they can recommend appropriate treatments to keep symptoms at bay.

Contact your eye care provider if you think you might have geographic atrophy or notice any changes in your vision health. Share your symptoms and request a vision test. The provider can learn more about your condition and recommend the next steps. It’s also important to be proactive about vision health and attend annual eye exams to check on the status of your vision.

Geographic atrophy (GA) is a progressive eye condition that can eventually lead to central vision loss and legal blindness, affecting your ability to complete daily tasks. This condition is a late-stage form of age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease common in older adults.

Some people with GA don’t experience any symptoms in the early stage, making it hard to diagnose. When symptoms develop, it’s possible to experience poor night vision, blurriness, and difficulty seeing in low light. Getting as early of a diagnosis as possible and following your treatment plan can slow disease progression.

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