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Wet AMD can be treated with laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, and most recently, injection of medication into the eye. None of these treatments is a cure for wet AMD. The disease and loss of vision may progress despite treatment.
In laser surgery, a high energy beam of light is aimed directly onto the new blood vessels and destroys them, preventing further loss of vision. However, laser treatment may also destroy some surrounding healthy tissue and some vision. Only a small percentage of people with wet AMD can be treated with laser surgery. Laser surgery is usually performed in a doctor’s office.
In photodynamic therapy, a drug called Visudyne® (verteporfin) is injected into your arm. It travels throughout the body, including the new blood vessels in your eye. The drug tends to “stick” to the surface of new blood vessels. Next, a light is shined into your eye for about 90 seconds. The light activates the drug which then destroys the new blood vessels and leads to a slower rate of vision decline. Unlike laser surgery, this treatment does not destroy surrounding healthy tissue. Because the drug is activated by light, you must avoid exposing your skin or eyes to direct sunlight or bright indoor light for five days after treatment.
The latest advancement in treatment of wet AMD is the use of drugs that are injected into the eye (anti-VEGF therapy). Abnormally high levels of a specific growth factor occur in eyes with wet AMD and promote the growth of abnormal new blood vessels. These drug treatments block the effects of the growth factor. Patients typically need multiple injections that may be given as often as monthly. This drug treatment can help slow down vision loss from AMD and in some cases even improve sight. The two most commonly used agents are Avastin® (bevacizumab) and Lucentis® (ranibizumab).
The National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific high-dose formulation of antioxidants and zinc significantly reduces the risk of advanced AMD and its associated vision loss. Slowing AMD’s progression from the intermediate stage to the advanced stage will save the vision of many people. Ongoing studies are also looking at the role of dietary supplements containing lutein/zeaxanthin as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Various drug therapies are in clinical trials.