The pathogenesis of age-related maculopathy (ARM), the most common cause of visual loss after the age of 60 years, is indeed a complicated scenario that involves a variety of hereditary and environmental factors. The pathological cellular and molecular events underlying retinal photochemical light damage, including photoreceptor apoptosis, have been analysed in experimental animal models. Studies of age-related alterations of the retina and photoreceptors, the accumulation of lipofuscin in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, and the formation of drusen have greatly contributed to our knowledge. A new concept of an inflammatory response to drusen has emerged, suggesting immunogenic and systemic reactions in Bruch's membrane and the subretinal space. Oxidative stress and free radical damage also impact on the photoreceptors and RPE cells in the ageing eye. Based on the photoelectric effect, a fundamental concept in quantum physics, the consequences of high-energy irradiation have been analysed in animal models and cell culture. Short-wavelength radiation (rhodopsin spectrum), and the blue light hazard (excitation peak 440 nm), have been shown to have a major impact on photoreceptor and RPE function, inducing photochemical damage and apoptotic cell death. Following cataract surgery, there is a dramatic change in ocular transmittance. In aphakic or pseudophakic eyes (with clear intraocular lenses), high-energy (blue) and ultraviolet-A radiation strikes the retina. Epidemiological data indicate a significantly increased 5-year incidence of late ARM in non-phakic eyes compared with phakic eyes. In recent years, putative prophylactic measures against ARM have emerged. The implantation of 'yellow' intraocular lenses (IOLs) that absorb high-energy blue radiation is, from a theoretical point of view, the most rational approach, and, from a practical point of view, is easy to accomplish. With increasing age, RPE cells accumulate lipofuscin (chromophore A2E). It is noteworthy that the yellow IOL not only protects A2E-laden human RPE cells from blue light (peak 430 nm) damage, but also alleviates the detrimental effects of green (peak 550 nm) and white light. A prophylactic treatment using antioxidants is aimed at counteracting oxidative stress and free radical cellular damage. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a randomized clinical trial, showed a significantly lower incidence of late ARM in a cohort of patients with drusen maculopathy treated with high doses of antioxidants than in a placebo group. In recent years, considerable progress in retinal research has been achieved, creating a platform for the search for new prophylactic and therapeutic measures to alleviate or prevent photoreceptor and RPE degeneration in ARM.