Can You Slow Macular Degeneration Progression?

Controllable and Uncontrollable Aspects

Medically reviewed by Christine L. Larsen, MD

Learning you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can leave you wondering what you can do to keep the disease from progressing and affecting your detailed central vision. The steps you can take depend on whether you have the wet or the dry form of AMD and at what point in the disease you were diagnosed.

The dry form of the disease is the most common. While its progression cannot be halted, it is the slower-progressing form of the condition. The wet form can quickly diminish sight. But it can also be treated and, in many cases, kept in check with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections, which can help prevent abnormal blood vessels from forming.

Learn here about how AMD progresses, what you can do to prevent it, strategies for managing AMD symptoms, and where to turn for support when dealing with this condition.

<p>Dejan Marjanovic / Getty Images</p>

Dejan Marjanovic / Getty Images

Incurable, Progressive Macular Degeneration

Unfortunately, both forms of AMD continue to worsen; they each have their own timeline.

The dry form usually has no symptoms initially. But by the intermediate stage, you may begin to notice some blurriness in the central part of their vision and may also have some difficulty seeing at night or in bad weather.

You may also notice that straight lines begin to look wavy. Deposits of fat and protein known as drusen elevate the retina a bit, causing the distortion.

By the late stage of dry AMD, the light-sensitive cells of the retina may begin to deteriorate. This may cause geographic atrophy with a blind spot in the center of the vision, where you normally have your detailed sight, which may continue to enlarge somewhat. Also, dry AMD can at any point change into the wet form.

In the wet form, abnormal blood vessels form in the eye. The wet form can cause a rapid decline in vision that can even come on within one day. This can happen if fluid from abnormal blood vessels begins to leak onto the retina, damaging it and causing either a blind spot or distortion.

Fortunately, if promptly noticed, it is possible to stop blood vessels from leaking and help preserve sight.

Defining Macular Degeneration Prevention

There is currently no medication or natural remedy to cure macular degeneration once it has begun. But it may be possible for you to prevent the condition in the first place. If you know AMD runs in your family or you already have had a macular degeneration diagnosis in one eye, you may wish to control related lifestyle factors such as the following:

  • Reduce high blood pressure, which is thought to damage blood vessels and increase the risk of AMD.

  • Lower cholesterol levels since high cholesterol levels have been associated with a greater likelihood of developing macular degeneration.

  • Avoid smoking, which may lower levels of valuable nutrients like antioxidants that may help stave off this condition.

  • Eat healthy, including green leafy vegetables.

  • If you have intermediate dry AMD in one or both eyes, take a vitamin supplement identified by the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) as reducing the risk of AMD progression. The AREDS 2 formula includes a combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

  • Take omega-3 fatty acid supplements (these include those based on fish oil). Some studies show that those who consume more fish are less likely to develop macular degeneration.

  • Protect your eyes from the sun. Wearing sunglasses or big-brimmed hats can help to prevent damage that may spur macular degeneration.

How to Manage Chronic Macular Degeneration Symptoms

Ongoing symptoms of macular degeneration can include straight lines appearing crooked, objects seeming smaller than usual, or a sudden blank spot in vision. While there is no cure, you may be able to slow the progression of these symptoms and preserve your sight.

Medication injections for wet AMD can help keep some symptoms in check. Anti-VEGF medication can be injected into the affected eye periodically. This can keep abnormal leaky new blood vessels from forming.

Damage to vision may occur when fluid from such vessels leaks onto the retinal tissue. Preventing these leaks can help prevent vision deterioration and make this a chronic, manageable condition. Around 11.6% of wet AMD cases may go into long-term remission with the aid of anti-VEGF medication.

It's also possible to use photodynamic therapy to help seal leaky vessels. With this, a light-sensitive agent is injected into your bloodstream, usually via an injection in the arm. Then, a special laser light is shown in the eyes to activate the light-sensitive agent and seal abnormal blood vessels.

Laser photocoagulation, in which a laser directly seals off leaky vessels, may also be tried. This can be used in some cases depending on where the leaky vessels are located.

For dry AMD cases, progression to any symptoms, such as straight lines appearing crooked or blank spots appearing in the vision, can take a long time. Those with this condition may be asked to use an Amsler grid test to ensure this is picked up as soon as possible.

This test involves a sheet resembling a piece of graph paper with a dot in the center. You cover one eye and use the other to determine if there are any gaps in vision or distortions seen in the grid.

There's also an at-home monitoring system, ForeseeHome, that can help determine if your dry AMD case is becoming wet AMD. This can enable you to seek treatment and preserve your vision promptly.



Seeking Acceptance

For many, it's not easy to come to terms with having a sight-threatening condition such as macular degeneration. To help navigate this new diagnosis, you may wish to join a support group where you can speak to others who are dealing with this condition.

You can locate low-vision support groups in your area through the E.A.R.S. for EYES Program directory.



Support and Resources for Macular Degeneration

Resources and support networks can help you manage AMD as effectively as possible. Consider the following:

  • Eyecare America: For U.S. citizens and others who legally reside in the United States, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers eye exams at no cost and other needed vision care for as long as one year.

  • Prescription assistance programs: If you are undergoing macular degeneration treatment, you may wish to consult a list of financial assistance programs that can help to cover the cost of medications.

  • Transportation around town: Rides in Sight is a national network that offers transportation in communities around the country to seniors and those with mobility issues, as does the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center.

  • Tip sheets on low vision: The VisionAware list can offer safety suggestions and alert you to help technology that can assist those with low vision.

Summary

While macular degeneration is progressive, there are things you can control. By modifying certain lifestyle factors, you may be able to keep macular degeneration from affecting at least one of your eyes, even if you've already been diagnosed with this condition in the other.

If you have wet macular degeneration, powerful medication and other treatments can help keep it in check. Dry macular degeneration tends to progress slowly and may not show symptoms for some time, although this may sometimes convert to the wet form.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.