How Age-Related Macular Degeneration Is Treated

There are several treatments for macular degeneration, or what's more commonly referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD)—a condition that gradually wipes out the central vision. In general, these treatments can prevent and slow the worsening of vision by preventing damage to the retina. Unfortunately, they do not usually repair damage to the macula or recover vision that is already lost. Depending on the extent of your case, vitamins, medications, surgery, and/or therapies may be considered.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, vitamin supplementation may slow the progression of early, mild AMD, which is usually the dry form of AMD. 

In the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (a major National Eye Institute-sponsored clinical trial that followed about 3,600 people with varying stages of AMD), researchers found that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc daily reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by about 25 percent. The study's vitamin formulation consists of:

  • 500 mg of vitamin C
  • 400 IU of vitamin E
  • 15 mg of beta-carotene
  • 80 mg of zinc (as zinc oxide)
  • 2 mg of copper (as cupric oxide)

What supplements and doses are right for you, if any, must be determined by your ophthalmologist. Follow the advice and regimen recommended for you.

Medications

Blood vessel overgrowth in the eye is a large part of macular degeneration, and activity of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)—a protein—may play a role in that. Anti-VEGF medications have been shown to be effective in preventing the proliferation of fragile blood vessels that can leak and cause further damage to the macula.

Anti-VEGF medications include:

  • Lucentis (ranibizumab)
  • Avastin used off-label (bevacizumab)
  • Eylea (aflibercept)

Each is given via an injection into the eye, which is performed by an ophthalmologist. You should expect to receive an injection of local anesthetic prior to your injection with anti-VEGF. Most people are able to tolerate the procedure well and without pain or discomfort.

The effects of anti-VEGF procedure typically last for approximately one month. You may need repeat procedures if your eye examination shows recurrent blood vessel overgrowth. 

Specialist-Driven Procedures

There are several surgical and therapeutic procedures that can prevent and slow down the progression of macular degeneration. Your eye doctor or a retinal specialist will examine your eyes and vision carefully to determine whether or not you would benefit from and tolerate these procedures; the decision is a complex one.

The procedures used for macular degeneration include:

Laser Surgery: Laser surgery procedures use targeted lasers to prevent the proliferation of fragile blood vessels in the eye. This is typically performed in an outpatient setting, and the effect should last for years. That said, the procedure may be repeated years later in some cases if needed.

Photodynamic Therapy: This outpatient treatment involves an intravenous injection of medication that causes the small blood vessels in the eye to constrict so that they are less likely to leak. The medication is activated by light, which is targeted toward the fragile blood vessels with a laser. You should expect to be awake during it and to receive a local anesthetic for comfort and pain control. After the procedure, your eyes may be more sensitive to light than usual, and you will be given instructions on how to protect your eyes. 

Retinal Implant: Retinal implants have been used for several conditions. When used for AMD, the device is implanted behind the iris of the eye. The implant works by a magnifying central vision and sending images to the healthy part of the retina. It has been used, but it is not widely available.

Complementary Medicine (CAM)

While there is evidence to suggest that some vitamins may prevent progression of AMD, there is limited evidence supporting the use of herbs. Here are some alternative treatments you may hear about. If these options interest you, speak to your ophthalmologist before incorporating any into your treatment plan.

  • Lutein and Zeaxanthin: A growing number of studies show that these two antioxidants may play a role in reducing the development and progression of AMD. Available in supplement form, lutein and zeaxanthin are also found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other foods.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Several small studiessuggest that ginkgo biloba (an herb said to stimulate circulation) may help preserve vision in people with AMD.
  • Bilberry: In animal research studies, researchers found that long-term supplementation with bilberry extract helped prevent AMD. However, it's important to remember that the results of animal studies cannot be equally applied to humans.

Lifestyle

There are several lifestyle factors that may reduce your risk of developing AMD, and they should also be part of your complete AMD treatment plan:

Learn Ways to Adapt and Cope With Macular Degeneration
View Article Sources