Wet macular degeneration is the more advanced type of AMD. Although it affects only 10-15 percent of those who have the condition, it accounts for 90 percent of the severe vision loss caused by macular degeneration.
With this type, the membrane underlying the retina thickens, then breaks. The oxygen supply to the macula is disrupted and the body responds by growing new, abnormal blood vessels. These begin to grow through the breaks of the membrane behind the retina towards the macula, often raising the retina.
To visualize this, imagine the roots of a tree growing and spreading until they crack and grow through a sidewalk. Then imagine rainwater seeping up throughout the cracks. These abnormal blood vessels (the “roots”) tend to be very fragile. They often grow and leak or bleed, causing scarring of the macula. This fluid is called exudate and wet AMD is sometimes called exudative macular degeneration.
This damage to the macula results in rapid central vision loss. Once this vision is destroyed, it cannot be restored. However, there are several treatment options for wet AMD which can be very effective if applied early.
How Did I Get Wet Macular Degeneration?
There are many risk factors that contribute to age-related macular degeneration. Studies in large populations show that statistically a person’s chance of developing a disease is increased by risk factors. In your case, it was probably a combination of things. Some of them are completely out of your control, like family history, gender, ethnicity, and of course, age. Other factors relate to your own lifestyle and can be changed.
Everyone with wet AMD started out with dry AMD, even if they didn’t notice it. Dry AMD is the early form that includes protein deposits in the retina and perhaps areas of cell death. Scientists theorize that the body recognizes that the dry AMD is disrupting the circulation of the eye and preventing oxygen and nutrients from reaching the retina. In response, a growth factor is triggered which causes blood vessels to grow in the eye. This growth factor is called VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) and circulates through the body. VEGF is good when it directs healthy blood vessel growth, such as sending new blood vessels to the part of the heart affected by a heart attack. VEGF is not good when it directs blood vessels to a cancer tumor (feeding the tumor and causing it to grow) – or in the eye.
What Can I Do About Wet Macular Degeneration?
There are things you can do to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and take charge of AMD. Research with large populations of people around the world has revealed a whole list of lifestyle risk factors that can be changed. If you have wet AMD, certain supplements may slow the progression by as much as 25%. There are also medical treatment, explained below, that can stop or slow the progression of wet AMD.
Fortunately for people with wet macular degeneration, there are several treatment options and more are being developed. These are aimed at sealing off the leaking blood vessels (with a laser and light sensitive drug) and/or preventing the blood vessels from growing back (these last are called anti-angiogenic therapies).
Repeated treatments are necessary, as often as once a month, but doctors are now finding that treatments can be spaced further apart and still be effective. Each eye is different, so your doctor will watch carefully how you respond and will recommend what works best for you.