8 Things to Know About Wet Macular Degeneration
- Macular degeneration affects millions.According to recent data, as many as 25.5 million Americans live with some form of vision loss. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects up to 11 million of these individuals. Because vision loss can have a profound effect on your life, it’s important to see your doctor immediately if you experience any changes in your vision. Early detection is key to preserving your sight and keeping your eyes as healthy as possible. Here’s what you need to know.
- 1. Wet AMD begins as dry AMD.There are two types of AMD: wet AMD and dry AMD. In almost all cases, wet AMD begins as dry AMD. Inside your eyes, within your retina, a zone of cells called the macula helps you see clearly in your direct line of vision. Dry macular degeneration occurs when cells beneath the macula thin and break down. This condition may worsen slowly over several years, eventually progressing to advanced macular degeneration, or wet AMD. Wet macular degeneration affects approximately 10% of all people with age-related macular degeneration.
- 2. Abnormal blood vessels cause symptoms.The exact cause of wet macular degeneration isn’t understood. But we know the disease is related to changes in blood vessels in the back of the eye. In many cases, wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow abnormally underneath the retina. These abnormal blood vessels may leak blood and other fluids into the layers of the retina. Sometimes, excess fluid may form a cyst within the macula. Both situations can result in changes to your central vision.
- 3. Symptoms usually begin suddenly.Unlike dry macular degeneration, which usually develops slowly over a period of years, the symptoms of wet macular degeneration often come on suddenly and get worse quickly. Your symptoms may include visual distortions, a blurry or blind spot in your visual field, reduced central vision, or decreased brightness and intensity of colors. Your vision may also be generally hazy in one or both eyes. If you notice any symptoms of wet AMD, see your doctor as soon as possible.
- 4. Wet AMD is a leading cause of vision loss.Along with other types of eye disorders like cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, wet macular degeneration is a leading cause of permanent vision loss among Americans age 50 and older. However, you can take certain steps to help prevent wet AMD, including eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, taking eye-specific supplements, exercising regularly, and managing any other medical conditions you may have. Also, regular vision checks with your doctor are the best way to detect any eye changes early on.
- 5. Smoking doubles your risk.There are several risk factors for developing wet macular degeneration. Your age, race, and history of obesity and cardiovascular disease may all contribute to the development of wet AMD. But one risk factor more than doubles your chances of developing this condition. Smoking cigarettes, or frequent exposure to secondhand smoke, drastically increases your chances of developing wet macular degeneration. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do if you’re worried about wet AMD.
- 6. Wet AMD seems to be hereditary.In addition to other risk factors for wet macular degeneration, like your age and your race, research suggests there is a hereditary component to this disease. Already, scientists have identified several genes that seem to help determine your likelihood of developing wet AMD. These genes are often passed down through families. Even though it’s not possible to change your genes or family history, you can still reduce your risk by avoiding other known risk factors, like cigarette smoke.
- 7. Wet AMD rarely causes total blindness.Fortunately, most people living with wet macular degeneration don’t go completely blind. Your peripheral, or side, vision is rarely affected by age-related macular degeneration. Instead, people living with wet AMD often experience a dark spot in the center of their vision. Others may not notice any symptoms at all, especially if wet macular degeneration only affects one eye. Diagnosing this condition quickly is key to preventing any further vision loss.
- 8. There are several treatments available.Thanks to research, several treatments are available to help slow the progression of wet AMD, preserve your existing vision, and even restore lost vision in some cases. Your doctor may recommend medications, like painless anti-VEGF injections that stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels inside your eyes. Procedures like photodynamic therapy and photocoagulation, which both use special lasers, may be used to seal abnormal blood vessels and prevent them from leaking. Your treatment will depend on your unique medical needs and treatment goals.