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.

Annual eye exam by optometrist
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Over-the-Counter Therapies

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, vitamin supplementation may slow the progression of intermediate non-exudative AMD, which is often referred to as the dry form of AMD. 

The Age-Related Eye Disease Study was 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.

Recommendations based on the Age Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS 2):

  • 500 mg of vitamin C
  • 400 IU of vitamin E
  • 80 mg of zinc (as zinc oxide)
  • 2 mg of copper (as cupric oxide)
  • 10 mg of Lutein
  • 2 mg of Zeaxanthin

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)
  • Beovu (brolicuzumab)

Each is given via an injection into the eye, which is performed by an ophthalmologist. Your ophthalmologist will anesthetize the injection site 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, although recent studies show that treatments can be extended in some individuals. You may need repeat procedures if your eye examination shows recurrent blood vessel overgrowth. 

There are also emerging treatments on the horizon that are being studied, such as gene therapy.

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 more than a year. 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 the procedure and to receive a local anesthetic for comfort and pain control. After the treatment is injected, your eyes may be more sensitive to light than usual, and you will be given instructions on how to protect your eyes. 

Macular Degeneration Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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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:

Your eye doctor may give you an Amsler grid to monitor changes in your vision at home. You will learn how to use it and how to tell your eye doctor's office about the results. If you have vision changes or changes as measured by the Amsler grid before your next scheduled appointment, you can be seen sooner.

Additionally, you can see a vision rehab specialist, who can provide you with resources to help safely navigate your environment and manage activities of daily living. Joining a support group can be helpful. And your family can also learn how to support you as you cope with vision loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the treatment for wet macular degeneration?

    In wet macular degeneration, a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the back of the eye. The most common treatment is an anti-VEGF injection, which helps stop the blood vessels from leaking. Photodynamic therapy is occasionally used as a treatment along with anti-VEGF medication.

  • How does diet affect macular degeneration progression?

    There is some evidence that a healthy diet may help improve the outlook for AMD. A review study found that a Mediterranean diet, fatty fish with omega-3 fatty acids, and vegetables rich in carotenoids were beneficial for those at risk for AMD. In contrast, a Western diet, red meats, vegetable oils, animal fats, and more than two alcoholic drinks per day were linked to an increased risk of AMD progression.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gorusupudi A, Nelson K, Bernstein PS. The Age-Related Eye Disease 2 Study: Micronutrients in the Treatment of Macular Degeneration. Adv Nutr. 2017;8(1):40-53. doi:10.3945/an.116.013177

  2. Macular Degeneration Treatments - AMDF. American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

  3. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. National Eye Institute.

  4. National Eye Institute. Treatments for wet AMD (advanced neovascular AMD).

  5. Chapman N, Jacobs R, Braakhuis A. Role of diet and food intake in age-related macular degeneration: a systematic reviewClin Exp Ophthalmol. 2018;47(1):106-127. doi:10.1111/ceo.13343

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.