Treatment Options for Wet AMD

Learn about anti-VEGF drugs, photodynamic therapy, and laser surgery for wet age-related macular degeneration.

Treatment Options for Wet AMD

Wet AMD is the less common form of age-related macular degeneration, but it can progress quickly and cause severe vision loss. If you or a loved one has wet AMD, it is important to seek treatment from an ophthalmologist, a healthcare provider that specializes in the care of the eye and the treatment of disorders that affect the eyes.

Understanding the eye
Before going to an appointment, it can help to have a basic understanding of the parts of the eye that are affected by wet AMD:

  • The retina: This is a layer of light-sensitive nerve cells located in the back of the eye, near the optic nerve. The retina takes light that enters the lens of the eye and converts it into nerve signals that are transmitted to the brain.
  • The macula: This is the center and most sensitive part of the retina. It is what allows the human eye to read fine print, discern one shade of green from another, and see things in sharp detail.
  • Blood vessels: Like all other parts of the body, the eyes depend on a continuous flow of blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients in order to function.
  • Drusen: These are not a natural part of the eye, but deposits of lipids that accumulate underneath the retina. Drusen, especially larger drusen, are associated with AMD.

Understanding wet AMD
AMD occurs when the retina and macula deteriorate. Researchers do not understand exactly why this occurs in some people. As the eyes try to cope with this problem, new, abnormal blood vessels may grow beneath the retina—this is called wet AMD. These blood vessels can leak blood and fluids into the eye and damage the retina.

Understanding treatment options
There are treatments for wet AMD that can stop blood vessel leakage, which will slow the progression of vision loss. Some patients also see an improvement in vision with treatment.

The most commonly used—and preferred—treatment for wet AMD is something called anti-VEGF therapy, which is short for “anti-vascular endothelial growth factor therapy.” This approach uses drugs that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels.

Anti-VEGF drugs are injected into the eye—which can be an intimidating prospect for new patients. Know that the needle is very slim, the procedure is not painful (patients describe feeling pressure against the eye), and the injection takes only a few seconds. There are several anti-VEGF drugs available, and the decision of which one to use will be made by you and your healthcare provider.

Photodynamic therapy and laser surgery are two other treatment options, though they are less commonly used—they are less effective and have a greater risk of side effects. With photodynamic therapy, a drug is injected into a vein in the arm. This drug is designed to absorb into growing blood vessels. A healthcare provider will use a laser to activate the drug once it has reached the abnormal blood vessels growing in the eye. Once activated, the drug closes off the abnormal blood vessels.

Laser surgery uses a thermal laser to destroy abnormal blood vessels, and can only be performed when abnormal blood vessels are limited to a small area and not directly below the macula. The abnormal blood vessels may also return after laser surgery.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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