The Differences between Wet and Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration

By , February 18th, 2019

Although the dry form of age-related macular degeneration is more common, the aggressive wet form can cause more severe vision loss.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in older Americans, typically affecting those over age 60. But not all cases of this condition are the same. Patients at risk should be aware that there are significant differences between the “wet” and “dry” types of AMD.

Wet and dry AMD both affect the macula, the region at the center of the retina responsible for high-resolution color vision. The dry type is more common and less aggressive, while wet AMD is responsible for most cases of severe vision loss. However, patients with either form of AMD should take their diagnosis seriously and seek care from an experienced doctor immediately.

Causes of Dry and Wet AMD

Exact causes of AMD are unknown, but doctors and researchers believe that genetics, combined with environmental factors like smoking, diet, and overall health, play a role in determining who gets AMD. However, we do know that wet and dry AMD have different causes; “wet” AMD involves leakage of the blood vessels while “dry” AMD does not.

The dry form of AMD is the most common; between 80 and 90% of patients only ever have this version. In the dry type, yellow or white drusen deposits – waste products of the eye’s cells – form on the retina, causing vision to deteriorate over time. Because dry AMD progresses slowly, patients can sometimes avoid further vision loss if the condition is caught early enough.

Wet AMD only manifests in about 10-15% of patients, but this version accounts for around 90% of severe vision loss cases attributed to this disease. This aggressive form is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. These vessels, which are typically weaker than normal blood vessels, eventually break, leak, and bleed. This can damage the macula, causing it to pull away from its normal location. The result is often rapid and severe vision loss, within just days or weeks.

How to Treat Dry and Wet Forms of AMD

In many cases, the best line of treatment for all forms of AMD involves lifestyle changes and vision rehabilitation. Antioxidants and vitamins may help slow down vision loss — foods like kale and spinach offer high levels of carotenoids that occur naturally in the macula. In addition, your doctor will recommend optical aids like reading glasses and magnifying glasses, plus the use of enlarged-text options for print items. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dry AMD, but it usually progresses slowly enough for a patient to adjust to the vision loss.

However, some cases of wet macular degeneration may qualify for surgical intervention. If the abnormal blood vessels are far enough from the macula, your eye doctor may be able to use a laser light to target them. This may slow the progression of the disease but typically doesn’t result in any restored vision. Another option is a newer form of treatment, photodynamic therapy, which involves a drug activated by a specialized light. This drug can close the blood vessels and stop much of the leakage. Although only appropriate in certain cases, this treatment can slow vision loss and possibly even reverse some of the damage.

Eye Checks Protect Your Vision

Regular eye exams are the best way to protect your vision from age-related macular degeneration. All older patients should have their vision checked, even if you don’t yet have any symptoms. And if you already have symptoms like blurred vision, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. The eye doctors at Kleiman Evangelista Eye Centers of Texas can perform diagnostic tests to catch subtle vision changes. If you already have an AMD diagnosis, our doctors can help you figure out a treatment plan to avoid further vision loss.

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