Treatment for Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50 in the US. It is a disease of the retina. The retina is a layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of your eye. This condition damages a portion of the retina called the macula, which is located in the center of the retina and enables you to see fine details clearly. You rely on your macula whenever you read, drive, or do other activities that require you to focus on fine details. Some people with AMD may lose the ability to perceive fine details both up close and at a distance. The side vision is usually not affected, as AMD usually affects only the central vision.

There are two types of AMD. About 90% of people with AMD have the “dry” form of AMD, which develops when the tissues of the macula grow thin with age and debris accumulates behind the retina. About 10% of people with AMD have the “wet” form of AMD. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath and into the retina. These unhealthy vessels leak blood and fluid, which can scar the macula. Vision loss in the wet form can be rapid and severe.

There are multiple interventions for dry macular degeneration and there are 2 main types of treatment for wet macular degeneration. Laser therapy is one main treatment for wet macular degeneration. 

An injection in the eye is other treatment type intended to slow vision loss in wet macular degeneration (AMD). Currently, the most common type of injection in the eye is by medicine called an “anti-VEGF” agent or an “anti-angiogenesis” agent. These medicines come in brand names such as Beovu, Eylea, Lucentis, and Avastin.

Researchers have found that a protein called VEGF, or vascular endothelial growth factor, is released by the retina in wet AMD and causes abnormal blood vessels to grow under the retina. Scientists have developed several new drugs that can block the trouble-causing VEGF. These are referred to as “anti-VEGF” drugs. Some of these “anti-VEGF” drugs are antibodies, and they help block abnormal blood vessels, slow their leakage, and help reduce vision loss.

Treatment with the anti-VEGF drug is usually performed by injecting the medicine with a very fine needle into the inside of the eye towards the retina. Your retina surgeon will clean your eye to prevent infection and will numb your eye with an anesthetic. Most patients will receive many anti-VEGF injections, spaced over the course of many months. There is a small risk of complications with anti-VEGF treatment.However, for most people, the benefits of this treatment outweigh the small risk of complications.

Anti-VEGF medications are a step forward in the treatment of wet AMD because they target the underlying cause of abnormal blood vessel growth. This treatment offers new hope to those affected with wet AMD. Although not every patient benefits from anti-VEGF treatment, a large percentage of patients achieve stabilized vision, and a large percentage achieve improved vision.

Because early AMD often has no symptoms, if you are at risk for AMD you should have your eyes examined regularly by an eye doctor.