Treatments for wet macular degeneration

Wet macular degeneration treatments can help preserve existing vision and, sometimes, recover lost vision.

Research hasn't provided a cure for wet macular degeneration — a chronic eye disease that affects the part of the retina responsible for your central vision (the macula). But treatment can help slow disease progression, preserve existing vision and, if started early enough, recover some of the vision that may have been lost.

When facing a wet macular degeneration diagnosis, it can help to understand the main treatment options.

Medications to stop growth of abnormal blood vessels

When you have wet macular degeneration, your body sends chemical signals to generate new blood vessels that grow from under and into the macula. These new vessels bleed easily and leak fluid, damaging the macula.

Certain medications called anti-VEGF drugs can block this growth signal and help stop new vessels from forming. These drugs are considered the first line treatment for wet macular degeneration.

Medications used to treat wet macular degeneration include:

  • Bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • Ranibizumab (Lucentis)
  • Aflibercept (Eylea)

Your doctor injects these medications into the affected eye. You may need injections every several weeks to maintain the beneficial effect of the medication. In some instances, you may partially recover vision as the blood vessels shrink and the fluid under the retina is absorbed, allowing retinal cells to regain some function.

Some possible risks of eye injections include eye irritation, tearing, redness, new floaters or increased eye pressure. Uncommon but more-severe side effects may include inflammation, cataracts, bleeding, retinal detachment and infection. Some of these medications may increase the risk of a stroke.

Using light to activate an injected medication (photodynamic therapy)

Photodynamic therapy is sometimes used to treat abnormal blood vessels close to the center of your macula.

In this procedure, your doctor injects a drug called verteporfin (Visudyne) into a vein in your arm, which travels to blood vessels in your eye. Your doctor shines a focused light from a special laser to the abnormal blood vessels in your eye. This activates the drug, causing the abnormal blood vessels to close, which stops the leakage.

Photodynamic therapy may improve your vision and reduce the rate of vision loss. You may need repeated treatments over time, as the treated blood vessels may reopen.

After photodynamic therapy, you'll need to avoid direct sunlight and bright lights until the drug has cleared your body, which may take several days.

Using a laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels (photocoagulation)

During laser therapy, your doctor uses a high-energy laser beam to seal abnormal blood vessels under the macula. The laser causes scarring that can create a blind spot, but the procedure is used to stop the vessels from bleeding with the aim of minimizing further damage to the macula. Even with this treatment, blood vessels may regrow, requiring further treatment.

Few people who have wet macular degeneration are candidates for this treatment. It generally isn't an option if you have abnormal blood vessels directly under the center of the macula. Also, the more damaged your macula is, the lower the likelihood of success.

Treatment can help slow the progress of wet macular degeneration, and in some cases restore some vision. In addition to discussing treatment options with your doctor, ask about low vision rehabilitation, which can provide you with strategies and technology to live a full life, even with reduced vision.

March 02, 2018 See more In-depth