Can I Get Disability Benefits for Macular Degeneration?

Disability benefits may be awarded for macular degeneration, depending on how poor your vision is and how your vision limits your abilities.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

More than two million people in the United States are believed to have macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. It's usually called "age-related macular degeneration" (AMD) because your risk of developing it increases with age. For example, those over 75 have a 30% chance of developing AMD.

Macular degeneration affects the cells in the back of your eye that are responsible for sensing light (your retina). The central portion of the retina (called the macula) controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. When the macula degenerates or wears down, it causes permanent vision loss.

Besides age, there are other risk factors associated with AMD, such as:

  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • sunlight exposure
  • high cholesterol, and
  • family history.

If you have a family member with macular degeneration, you have a 50% chance of developing the disease, versus a 12% chance in the general population. Race also seems to be a factor, with non-Hispanic white people and those of Asian descent developing AMD more often than other races.

Many people with macular degeneration can live relatively normal lives—especially if only one eye is affected. But for others, the vision loss of AMD affects their daily functioning. If you can't work because of AMD, you might qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Symptoms and Treatment of Macular Degeneration

There are two types of macular degeneration: wet AMD and dry AMD. Dry AMD, the most common type of macular degeneration, is when the macula gets thinner with age. In wet AMD, the macula is damaged by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the back of the eye.

Macular degeneration can affect one or both eyes. You might not have any symptoms in the early stages of dry AMD. In the intermittent stages, dry AMD can cause mild symptoms like trouble seeing in low light or mild blurriness. If you have wet AMD or later-stage dry AMD, you'll likely have more severe symptoms, such as:

  • noticeably blurry or fuzzy vision in one or both eyes
  • difficulty recognizing familiar faces
  • difficulty distinguishing colors
  • seeing straight lines appear wavy, or
  • a dark, empty area or blind spot in the center of your visual field.

Treatment options for macular degeneration usually include medication, laser treatments, or implanting a telescopic lens in one eye. Some medications can halt the progression of wet AMD and even help reverse some of the disease's effects. But there's no effective treatment for dry AMD.

If both eyes are affected by AMD, it can limit your ability to read, drive, or do fine detailed work.

Is Macular Degeneration a Disability?

Social Security sometimes considers macular degeneration a disability. But you can't get disability benefits based solely on a diagnosis of AMD. Instead, Social Security will consider how much your AMD decreases your central acuity or peripheral vision.

Some medical conditions can automatically qualify as disabilities for Social Security benefit purposes. These conditions are included in Social Security's disability listings, called the Blue Book. If your vision impairment meets the requirements of a disability listing for vision loss, Social Security will automatically consider your macular degeneration a disability.

If your AMD symptoms don't meet the vision listing, you can still qualify as disabled. But you'll only qualify if your symptoms are severe enough to prevent you from working enough for Social Security to consider your work "substantial gainful activity."

Your failing eyesight might prevent you from doing certain types of work, like jobs involving:

  • driving
  • working around hazardous machinery, or
  • working at unprotected heights.

These restrictions might prevent you from doing your past work. And, depending on your age, education, and skill set, being unable to do your past jobs might be enough for you to qualify for disability under Social Security's medical-vocational grid rules.

Medical Evidence Needed to Get Disability for AMD

To qualify as disabled, you must show Social Security that you have a medically determinable impairment that's severe enough to affect your ability to function in a work setting and has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months. If you've been diagnosed with macular degeneration, your medical records must have objective evidence to support the diagnosis.

You'll need a visual acuity test performed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist and possibly a peripheral vision test. Your doctor may also perform the following tests:

  • ophthalmoscopy
  • Amsler grid test
  • optical coherence tomography (OCT), or
  • eye angiography.

Your records should also include information about all the treatments you've tried (including their effectiveness and any side effects).

Social Security also needs to know how your AMD affects your daily functioning. So, your treating doctor's statements about your limitations are critical to your claim.

How to Apply for Disability With AMD

You can apply for Social Security disability benefits in person at your local Social Security office or by submitting an online application at You can also file for disability by phone, by calling 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778).

Whichever method you choose, to complete the disability application, you'll need the following information and documentation:

  • your Social Security number (SSN) and contact information
  • proof of citizenship or immigration status
  • contact information for all your health care providers
  • details about where you've worked for the last 15 years, and
  • your bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit of your disability benefits.

Learn more about applying for Social Security disability benefits.

Macular Degeneration VA Rating

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluates macular degeneration using the Schedule of Ratings for Diseases of the Eye. Your rating for AMD will be based on the visual impairment it causes or the number of treatments you've needed—whichever results in a higher rating.

If you had 7 or more visits over the last 12 months to a clinic or health care provider for treatment of incapacitating episodes of AMD, you could receive a rating as high as 60%. One or two visits in that time would only be rated at 10%.

The VA rating for macular degeneration based on visual impairment looks at the results of tests of your:

  • central visual acuity (your ability to see fine details straight ahead)
  • visual field (how much area can you see when staring at a fixed point), and
  • muscle function (how well you can move your eyes around to see things).

Eye conditions and vision problems can qualify for ratings of 0% to 100%, depending on severity and whether one or both eyes are affected. For instance, if your visual acuity in both eyes is 5/200 (20/800) while wearing glasses, you could receive a VA rating of 100%. But if your corrected acuity in one eye is 5/200 and the other eye is 20/100, you could receive a VA rating of 60%. (38 C.F.R. § 4.79.)

Of course, to qualify for disability compensation and other VA benefits, you first have to prove that your macular degeneration is due to a service-connected event. Learn more about how to establish a service connection for your impairment.

Updated March 8, 2024

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