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Screening for Macular Degeneration

by Amy Scholten, MPH

The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.

Both the American Academy of Family Physicians and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend the following preventive screening for macular degeneration:

Snellen Acuity Testing - Visual acuity is measured with a Snellen chart, which displays letters, numbers, or objects of progressively smaller size. Normal vision is 20/20. Vision that is 20/40 allows you to pass a driver's license test in all 50 states. If your vision is 20/80, you will be able to read an alarm clock that is 10 feet away. If your vision is 20/200, you are considered legally blind. Legally blind does not mean that you cannot see anything. It only implies that your vision is limited.

Screening Guidelines

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends Snellen acuity testing in elderly patients without symptoms of macular degeneration. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends comprehensive eye examinations every one to two years for people over age 65 who do not have eye conditions requiring treatment or other intervention.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests the following guidelines for when to have a regular eye exam for people without any medical or visual problems:


Screening for eye disease by trained personnel - eye M.D., pediatrician or trained screener

  • Newborn to 3 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 3 years (approximately)
  • 5 years (approximately)


Comprehensive medical eye exam by an eye M.D.

  • Once between age 20 and 39
  • Age 40 to 64, every two to four years
  • Age 65 and older, every one to two years

Some factors may put you at increased risk for eye disease. If any of these factors applies to you, check with your eye M.D. to see how often you should have a medical eye exam:

  • Developmental delay
  • Premature birth
  • Personal or family history of eye disease
  • African-American heritage (African-Americans are at increased risk for glaucoma)
  • Previous serious eye injury
  • Use of certain medications (check with your eye M.D.)
  • Certain diseases that affect the whole body (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or HIV infection)


American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Last reviewed October 2004 by Marc Ellman, MD

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