The Amsler Grid Test is one of the simplest and most effective methods for patients to monitor the health of the macula. The Amsler Grid is essentially a pattern of intersecting lines (identical to graph paper) with a black dot in the middle. The central black dot is used for fixation (a place for the eye to stare at). With normal vision, all lines surrounding the black dot will look straight and evenly spaced with no missing or odd looking areas when fixating on the grid’s central black dot. When there is disease affecting the macula, as in macular degeneration, the lines can look bent, distorted and/or missing.
‘Vision loss’ or ‘blindness’ in macular degeneration refers to the loss of ‘central vision’ only. The peripheral vision is preserved. Blindness in macular degeneration does not mean ‘inability to see light’ and even with far advanced macular degeneration, the peripheral retina allows for useful vision.
The loss of central vision profoundly effects visual functioning. It is not possible, for example, to read without central vision. Pictures which attempt to depict the central visual loss of macular degeneration with a black spot do not really do justice to the devastating nature of the visual loss. This can be demonstrated by printing letters 6 inches high on a piece of paper and attempting to identify them while looking straight ahead and holding the paper slightly to the side. Most people find this surprisingly difficult to do.