What to Know About Wet AMD and COVID-19

Wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a chronic eye disease that causes blurred vision or a blind spot in your vision. Wet AMD happens when abnormalities in the blood vessels allow fluid or blood to leak into the macula of the eye.

Having AMD does not increase your risk of getting COVID-19. However, if you do get sick, having a condition like wet AMD could possibly increase your risk of complications.

If you have wet AMD, continuing to get your treatment is necessary to prevent vision loss. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you might be wondering if it is safe to go to your eye doctor's office for your appointments. Here's what you need to know about wet AMD and COVID-19 risk.

An older white female patient wearing a face mask being examined by an eye doctor.

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Wet AMD and COVID-19 Risk

Wet AMD can affect your vision quickly and unexpectedly. Getting treatment for wet AMD can help slow the disease's progression and preserve your sight. Treatment for wet AMD involves injections to the eye that are given at your eye doctor's office.

Does Having Wet AMD Increase Your Risk of Getting Sick?

You might be worried that having a health condition like wet AMD could make you more likely to get sick with COVID. If you have wet AMD, your risk of getting COVID does not appear to be increased compared with people who do not have the eye condition.

However, as with other people who have chronic health conditions that need regular monitoring, your risk of being exposed to COVID is mostly related to going back and forth to your appointments.

Is It Safe to Go to Your Appointment?

During the pandemic, you might be feeling hesitant about going to your eye doctor's practice for treatment because you are afraid that you will be exposed to the COVID virus. You should talk with your doctor about your concerns. In response to the pandemic, most healthcare offices have been taking steps to keep their staff and patients safe.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, such as shortness of breath and a cough, call your eye doctor's office before going to your appointment. They might need to reschedule your treatment for when you are feeling better.

Your eye doctor might suggest delaying your treatments but not stopping them. For example, spacing out appointments can help balance patients' risk of COVID exposure with the risks of wet AMD.

Complications of Wet AMD and COVID-19

Although having wet AMD does not appear to increase your chances of getting COVID-19, it does raise the risk of developing certain complications, such as needing supplemental oxygen, if you do get sick.

Immune System Function

The increased risk of COVID complications among people with wet AMD appears to be connected to the body's complement system—which is an important part of how your immune system responds to an infection. People with AMD have a higher amount of complement activity than people who do not have the condition.

A 2018 study found that coronaviruses activate the immune complement system. Complement dysfunction is associated with more severe disease from these viruses, including in people with AMD.

Older Age

Severe effects from COVID-19 are more common in people who are older. Age-related macular degeneration is also more common in older adults and is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States.

Being of an older age puts many people with wet AMD at an increased risk of COVID. They are also more likely than younger people to die from the infection—one study found that the fatality rate in people with AMD and COVID between the ages of 70 and 79 is 8%, and 15% for people age 80 and older.

COVID and Your Eyes

COVID can also affect your eyes. While the virus does not cause AMD, conjunctivitis has been been identified in some people who have been hospitalized with COVID and who were sick with other systemic symptoms of COVID.

There are many causes of blurry vision. If you develop it, make an appointment with your eye doctor for a checkup. They can figure out if your symptoms are being caused by AMD, COVID, or another condition.

If you develop symptoms of COVID, call your doctor or make an appointment to get tested. Possible symptoms of COVID include:

Wet AMD Treatments and COVID-19

Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections are the most common treatment for wet AMD. Your eye doctor will let you know how often you should return to the office to get your eye injections. For example, you might need to go back every four to six weeks, or less frequently.

Stay on schedule with your injections even if you are concerned about COVID. Keeping up with your treatments is necessary to protect your sight. If you are concerned about COVID risks related to going to the office, talk to your provider. They can help you weigh the risks of COVID infection against vision loss from delayed appointments.

The eye injections used to treat wet AMD do not have any side effects that would be related to the COVID virus, its symptoms, or its treatments.

Is It Safe to Delay Treatment?

One study that included 1,559 eyes found that extending wet AMD eye injections by up to 10 to 12 weeks had a minimal effect on most patients' vision. However, there was a greater short-term risk to vision when retreatment was extended beyond 12 weeks.

The study examined treatment delays that occurred before the pandemic. Eye doctors can use the information from the study to help them decide whether it is safe to extend the time between eye injections for people with wet AMD.

If you use any eye drops at home for other eye conditions or eye vitamins for an eye that does not have wet AMD, continue to use them as you have been instructed unless your eye doctor tells you to stop.

How to Stay Safe

When you are at your eye doctor's office, you can rest assured that the practice will be taking steps to decrease your potential risk of exposure to COVID.

Changes that eye doctors and other medical professionals are taking to keep patients safe from COVID include:

  • Having staff members wash their hands frequently
  • Wearing face masks and asking patients to wear masks
  • Enforcing social distancing of six feet or more as often as possible
  • Limiting nonurgent in-person appointments
  • Reducing the number of patients in waiting rooms
  • Adjusting the physical setup of the office where AMD injections are provided to reduce how much time each patient spends there

You can reduce your risk of exposure to COVID as you go to and from your appointments by:

  • Getting vaccinated
  • Wearing a face mask, washing your hands often, and keeping your distance from others
  • Using hand sanitizer or disposable gloves
  • Avoiding touching your face (because the virus can spread through the nose, mouth, and eyes)

Your wet AMD treatment needs will depend on how much leakage there is from abnormal blood vessels in the back of your eye, which is what affects your vision when you have wet AMD.

A Word From Verywell

Having wet AMD does not make you more likely to catch COVID, but it might make you more at risk of complications if you do get sick.

If you have wet AMD, you are probably used to going to your eye doctor's office for treatment. While these treatments are essential to protecting your vision, you might be worried about being exposed to COVID as you go to and from your appointments.

Throughout the pandemic, healthcare practices have been taking steps to protect their staff and patients from the virus. As more people have been getting vaccinated, the risk of getting sick is also going down.

If you are worried about getting COVID, talk to your eye doctor about how they are keeping patients safe at the office. The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, but you may also want to keep taking other precautions, like wearing a face mask and washing your hands often.

While you will need to have an in-person appointment for your wet AMD treatment, other questions or minor eye problems might be able to be handled through a telehealth appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have wet AMD?

If you have a health condition, you should ask your doctor whether you should get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with certain chronic medical conditions discuss COVID vaccination with their doctor, as it might not be best for them to get the vaccine.

Wet AMD is not on the CDC's list of conditions that would prevent someone from getting a COVID vaccine. While every person's situation is different, it should be safe for most people with AMD to get vaccinated.

Do people with wet AMD have a higher chance of serious complications from COVID-19?

Maybe, but there has not yet been enough research to definitively say that people with wet AMD are at greater risk

According to one study, some patients with AMD and coagulation disorders like thrombocytopenia, thrombosis, and hemorrhage were at a "significantly increased risk of adverse clinical outcomes, including mechanical respiration and death, following SARS-CoV-2 infection," and patients with AMD appeared to die from COVID "more rapidly" than other patients.

The higher risk might be linked to dysfunction in the complement system, which is part of the immune system, but more studies need to be done to find out if there is a link.

How high is my risk of exposure to COVID-19 if I come in for wet AMD treatment?

Your risk of being exposed to COVID increases whenever you are around other people—especially if they are not vaccinated. Healthcare providers have been taking steps to reduce the risk of COVID infection for their staff and patients throughout the pandemic.

Wet AMD treatments require in-person office visits, but minor eye problems or questions about your AMD treatment might be able to be handled through a telehealth appointment.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed. As new research becomes available, we'll update this article. For the latest on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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10 Sources
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