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Hope for Macular Degeneration

There is no cure for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) at this time. But treatment can slow progression of the disease. And new treatments are in development.

There are 2 types of macular degeneration: dry AMD and wet AMD.

  • Dry AMD. This is the most common type. It is sometimes called atrophic or non-neovascular macular degeneration.

  • Wet AMD. This type is less common. It is also called exudative or neovascular macular degeneration. 

People who lose their central vision to macular degeneration can often be helped by low-vision specialists. With the help of special low-vision aids such as magnifying devices, large-print reading materials, and closed-circuit computers, people with macular degeneration can learn to use their remaining vision. Community organizations and support groups can help people with AMD and their families deal with vision loss and learn about other available resources.

High doses of certain vitamins may slow the vision loss caused by AMD. A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that people at risk for developing advanced AMD may slow vision loss progression by taking certain supplements. The supplement combination tested was a daily dose of:

  • 500 mg of vitamin C

  • 400 IU of vitamin E

  • 80 mg of zinc (as zinc oxide)

  • 10 mg of lutein

  • 2 mg of zeaxanthin

  • 2 mg of copper (as cupric oxide)

Talk with your healthcare provider about possible health risks before taking these supplements. Vitamin E doses higher than 400 IU have been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular death.

Dry AMD

If you have dry AMD, the National Eye Institute (NEI) recommends that you have a complete eye exam at least once a year. Ask your eye care provider if supplements might help delay the advancement of the condition.

Dry AMD can turn into wet AMD at any time. So the NEI recommends you get an Amsler grid from your eye care provider and use it every day to test your vision for signs of wet AMD. Check each eye separately. Cover one eye and look at the grid. Then cover your other eye and look at the grid. Do this with your reading glasses or bifocals, if you normally use them for reading. If you find any changes in how the grid looks (lines that are wavy, broken, or missing) or in your everyday vision, call your eye care provider.

Wet AMD

If you have wet AMD, regularly check your vision with the Amsler grid. If you find any changes, schedule an eye exam right away. If your healthcare provider advises treatment, don't wait. Realize that treatments are generally ongoing. After treatment, you should have eye exams often to find any recurrence of leaking blood vessels. If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking is linked to a greater risk of recurrence. 

Damage from wet AMD often can't be reversed. But treatment can prevent more damage. These treatments have been used for some types of wet AMD:

  • Photocoagulation. A high-energy laser beam is used to destroy the new abnormal blood vessels.

  • Photodynamic therapy. A cold laser is combined with a light-sensitizing medicine (verteporfin) to close new abnormal blood vessels.

  • Surgery. This is a treatment option for some types of wet AMD.

Newer treatments involve medicines (called VEGF inhibitors) that are injected into the eye. These medicines help reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels. They do this by stopping a substance called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). VEGF helps with blood vessel growth. It occurs in higher levels in eyes with wet AMD. These medicines are injected every few weeks to months. Studies show that these new medicines work better than the other treatments above. 

In the future, more treatments may be available. For example, scientists are also studying the idea of transplanting healthy cells into diseased eyes. They are also studying the genetic or hereditary factors that cause AMD.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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