Age-Related Macular Degeneration Treatment

There's no cure, but treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may slow the disease and keep you from having a severe loss of vision. Talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your condition.

Your Treatment Options

Anti-angiogenic drugs. Your doctor injects these medications into your eye. They stop new blood vessels from forming and block the leaking from the abnormal vessels that cause wet macular degeneration.

Some people who take these drugs have been able to regain vision that they lost from AMD. You will likely need to get the treatment repeated on follow-up visits.

Laser therapy. Your doctor may suggest a treatment with high-energy laser light that can sometimes destroy actively growing abnormal blood vessels from AMD.

Photodynamic laser therapy. It's a two-step treatment that uses a light-sensitive drug to damage your abnormal blood vessels.

Your doctor injects a medication into your bloodstream, which gets absorbed by the abnormal blood vessels in your eye. Next, he shines a laser into the eye to activate the drug, which damages the abnormal blood vessels.

Vitamins. A large study by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health, called AREDS (Age-Related Eye Disease Study), shows benefits if you take a supplement formula that has vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc, and copper. According to the research, the risk for vision loss goes down for some people with intermediate to advanced dry AMD.

An updated AREDS2 formula added lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids and removed beta-carotene, which might be safer for smokers. Beta-carotene is linked to a higher risk of lung cancer in people who smoke.

Low  vision  aids. You can get devices that have special lenses or electronic systems that enlarge images of nearby objects.

Researchers are always studying new ways to treat age-related macular degeneration. Some experimental methods are:

Submacular surgery. A surgeon removes your abnormal blood vessels, scar tissue, or blood.

Retinal translocation. It's a procedure that destroys abnormal blood vessels in your eye that are directly under the center of your macula. That's a spot that your doctor can't safely get to with a laser beam.

In a retinal translocation, your doctor rotates the macular center away from the abnormal blood vessels. Once the macular center is out of harm's way, your doctor treats the abnormal blood vessels with a laser.

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Next Steps for Macular Degeneration

Some people with the dry form of AMD can develop the wet form. If you've got the dry form now, check your vision every day and let your doctor know if you have any changes.

If you have the wet form of macular degeneration, even if it's been treated, you should test your vision to see if any blind spots grow bigger or if any new blind spots appear. New blood vessels can emerge months or years after you had injections or laser treatment.

If you only have AMD in one eye, your doctor will do regular eye exams on your other eye to check for signs of new problems.

What's the Outlook?

People rarely lose all of their sight from age-related macular degeneration. You may have poor central vision, but even with advanced AMD you'll still be able to see things to the side, outside your direct line of sight. And you'll still be able to do many of your regular daily activities. 

With the severe form of either wet or dry AMD, your central vision may decrease to less than 20/200 in both eyes. Even though you'll have peripheral vision, your vision problems meet the definition of legal blindness. 

The dry form of AMD, which is much more common, tends to get worse more slowly, allowing you to keep most of your vision.

Sometimes, even after you get treatment for wet AMD, the condition can come back. Test your vision regularly and follow the recommendations of your doctor. The right treatment not only slows your vision loss, but it can improve your vision.

Prevention

The earlier you get a diagnosis of AMD, the greater the chance that treatment will help.

See your eye doctor if you have any symptoms of AMD, and make sure you keep a regular schedule of eye exams.

Try these prevention tips:

  • Check your sight every day by looking at an Amsler grid -- a pattern of straight lines that's like a checkerboard. It can help you spot changes in your vision.
  • Stop smoking, eat a balanced diet that includes leafy green vegetables, and protect your eyes with sunglasses that block harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Supplements with antioxidants plus zinc may lower your odds of getting AMD, according to the Age-Related Eye Disease Study.
  • If you're over 65, your vision exams should include testing for AMD.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on January 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute.

James, B. Lecture Notes on Ophthalmology, Blackwell Publishing, 2003; pp 116-119.

Macular Degeneration Partnership.

National Institutes of Health: "NIH study provides clarity on supplements for protection against blinding eye disease."

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