Understanding the Two Forms of Macular Degeneration

Submitted by Ceatus Media Group on January 28, 2021

Macular degeneration, also called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is one of the most common eye conditions that develop as you get older.

This progressive eye disease affects about 14% of people ages 55-64. Your risk skyrockets as you get older, as it’s diagnosed in more than 40% of those over the age of 75.

Since macular degeneration is also a leading cause of vision loss, we at Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center encourage you to schedule routine eye exams.

During your eye exam, we can find the earliest signs of macular degeneration long before you notice any symptoms. Then we can start treatments that preserve your vision by slowing down the disease’s progression.

About macular degeneration

Macular degeneration affects a specific area near the center of your retina called the macula. The macula contains light-sensing cells that allow you to see fine details and colors. They’re also responsible for sharp central vision, or seeing things that are directly in front of you.

When macular degeneration develops, the specialized light-sensing cells become damaged, which causes vision loss. The way the cells are damaged depends on which of the two types of macular degeneration you have: dry macular degeneration or wet macular degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration

Dry macular degeneration affects 90% of everyone diagnosed with the condition. This type occurs when the macula starts to thin out or breaks down, and tiny deposits develop. 

The deposits, called drusen, are the earliest sign of dry macular degeneration. They’re made up of small pieces of yellow proteins. As the size and number of drusen increase, more of the macula deteriorates.

At first, you may notice blurry spots near the center of your vision. As the disease progresses, the blurry area may enlarge or you might see blank spots. 

Many of our patients also notice they need more light for reading. Other symptoms such as straight lines that appear wavy are signs of advanced degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration may develop in one or both eyes. Though this form can severely affect your central vision, it seldom causes blindness.

Wet macular degeneration

Even though wet macular degeneration is less common than the dry type, it’s responsible for 90% of all cases of legal blindness in people diagnosed with macular degeneration.

Wet macular degeneration begins as the dry form of the disease. Once it turns into the wet form, macular degeneration is in an advanced stage.

Wet macular degeneration develops when new blood vessels grow behind the retina. These weak vessels leak blood and fluids that infiltrate the retina and macula.

The fluids cause swelling that damages the macula and leads to scar tissue. As a result, the light-sensing cells stop working.

Once the blood vessels start leaking, the macula can suffer rapid and severe damage. Your central vision can become distorted or completely lost in a short time.

Macular degeneration treatment

Macular degeneration can’t be cured, but with early treatment, we can slow or stop progressive vision loss. 

Since you won’t experience symptoms until macular degeneration reaches an advanced stage, the only way to catch the problem early is with routine dilated eye exams that allow us to see drusen and vascular changes.

Here’s a breakdown of the treatments available to protect your vision:

Treatment for dry macular degeneration

We can slow down the disease process with a high-dose nutritional supplement containing vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper.

In the advanced stage of dry macular degeneration, some patients are good candidates for an implantable device. The device works like a tiny telescope that can improve your central vision.

Treatment for wet macular degeneration

Medications called anti-vascular endothelial growth factors (anti-VEGF) are the first line of treatment for wet macular degeneration.

Anti-VEGF injections stop the growth of new blood vessels. The medication may also make the existing blood vessels shrink, helping you regain some vision.

Photodynamic therapy is a good option for a specific subtype of wet macular degeneration. This treatment uses a light-activated medication to stop blood vessels from leaking.

Another therapy called laser photocoagulation uses laser energy to seal the blood vessels and stop leaking. Unfortunately, the laser also causes scarring that can affect your vision. For this reason, it’s not an option for most patients.

If it’s time to schedule your annual eye exam, or if you notice changes in your vision, call us at  Atlanta Vision Cataract and Laser Center or use our online tool to book an appointment.