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What Treatments Are Available for Macular Degeneration?

There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but treatments may prevent severe vision loss or slow the progression of the disease considerably. Several options are available, including: 

  • Anti-angiogenesis drugs. These medications (Avastin, Eyelea, Lucentis, Macugen) block the development of new blood vessels and leakage from the abnormal vessels within the eye that cause wet macular degeneration. This treatment has been a major change in the treatment of this condition and many patients have actually regained vision that was lost. The treatment may need to be repeated during follow-up visits.
  • Vitamins. A large study performed by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, called AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study), showed that for certain individuals, vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper can decrease the risk of vision loss in patients with intermediate to advanced dry macular degeneration. However, the ingredients of vision supplements may change with the completion of the AREDS2 study. This study sought to see if adding other vitamins and mineral to the supplement would improve results of the AREDS. The first addition was omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), and the second was a combination of two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in leafy green vegetables and highly colored fruits and vegetables. The research showed:  
  • Beta-carotene did not reduce the risk of progression of AMD.  
  • Adding omega-3 to the AREDS formula did not reduce risk of progression of AMD.
  • The AREDS formula was still found to be protective with less zinc added.
  • People that took a formula with lutein and zeaxanthin and who may not have been taking enough in their diet showed further improve with the new AREDS formula.
  • In general, people who took lutein and zeaxanthin instead of beta-carotene had more of a benefit.
  • Laser therapy. High-energy laser light can sometimes be used to destroy actively growing abnormal blood vessels that occur in macular degeneration.
  • Photodynamic laser therapy. A two-step treatment in which a light-sensitive drug (Visudyne) is used to damage the abnormal blood vessels. A doctor injects the drug into the bloodstream to be absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels in the eye. The doctor then shines a cold laser into the eye to activate the drug, damaging the abnormal blood vessels.
  • Low vision aids. Devices that have special lenses or electronic systems that produce enlarged images of nearby objects. They help people who have vision loss from macular degeneration make the most of their remaining vision. 

Researchers are studying new treatments for macular degeneration. The following treatments are considered experimental and have been used less often since the development of anti-angiogenic medications have developed:

  • Submacular surgery. Surgery to remove the abnormal blood vessels or blood.
  • Retinal translocation. A surgical procedure used to destroy abnormal blood vessels that are located directly under the center of the macula, where a laser beam cannot be placed safely. In the procedure, the macular center is rotated away from the abnormal blood vessels to a healthy area of the retina, thus preventing the formation of scar tissue and further damage to the retina. Once moved away from the abnormal blood vessels, a laser is used to treat the abnormal blood vessels.