There is currently no cure or way to reverse macular degeneration. But you can slow down and stop this eye disease from worsening and impacting your vision with treatments, like eye health vitamins, photodynamic therapy, and more.

Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States for people 65 years and older. Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), this condition results from changes to a small but vital region of the retina called the macula.

This eye condition is a progressive disease that worsens over time. There is currently no cure, but there are ways to slow the progress of the condition and adapt to the loss of vision by managing the symptoms.

This article describes macular degeneration, how it happens, and addresses the fact that while it not necessarily preventable, treatment can slow it.

With age, changes to the delicate structures underneath the macula in the retina can occur, resulting in macular degeneration. This causes central vision loss, which is what you’re able to see in front of you. It does not affect your peripheral vision, which is your side vision while looking straight ahead.

At a glance: Macular degeneration

Roughly 11 million people in the United States have AMD. Two types exist:

  • Dry macular degeneration affects 85% to 90% of people who have AMD. It occurs when small yellow deposits (drusen) develop under the macula.
  • Wet macular degeneration is also known as late AMD and it affects 10% to 15% of people who have AMD. It occurs when atypical blood vessels develop under the retina and macula.

You can read more about macular degeneration in general and the different types at Healthline.

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Depending on the type of macular degeneration you have, symptoms may include:

  • blurriness
  • difficulty adapting to low lights
  • distortion of straight lines in your field of vision
  • a need for brighter lighting
  • trouble recognizing faces
  • retinal damage
  • dark spots (floaters) in the center of your vision
  • hazy vision

Wet macular degeneration typically progresses more quickly than dry macular degeneration.

No, there is currently no cure or way to reverse macular degeneration once it develops.

While it’s not clear on how to fully prevent macular degeneration before it develops, there are ways to reduce your risk:

  • avoiding smoking (the top reversible risk factor for macular degeneration)
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • drinking plenty of water

Vision loss from macular degeneration is permanent and irreversible once it happens.

But there are ways to slow the progression and stop it from getting worse. Suggestions for managing the progression include:

  • Maintaining strong eye health: Schedule regular eye exams. Lifestyle factors, such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough exercise, and quitting smoking, are beneficial for your eye health.
  • Taking AREDS 2 supplements: For people with intermediate symptoms of dry AMD in one or both eyes, many eye specialists recommend a special dietary supplement called AREDS 2. This includes a formulation of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that can slow or stall central vision loss.
  • Using low vision aids: Tools such as digital and handheld magnifiers, spectacles, and audio and dictation software can help maximize vision.

Treatment for AMD depends on the actual type (dry or wet macular degeneration) and the progression of the disease. Consulting with a qualified eye doctor or low vision rehabilitation specialist is often a starting point, and that healthcare professional may recommend:

  • Eye vitamins: There are special dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, that may slow down the progression of dry macular degeneration. These may include zinc or vitamin B1, which is essential for your eye health and may reduce the risk of other eye conditions, such as cataracts.
  • Anti-VEGF drugs: Known as anti-vascular endothelial growth factor medications, these drugs include ranibizumab (Lucentis) and aflibercept (Eylea). Doctors inject them directly into your eye to stop the growth of new blood vessels. It can take several weeks of treatment before noticing any improvement. People getting these injections need to repeat them periodically.
  • Photodynamic therapy: Rather than an injection into the eye, this treatment option consists of a light-sensitive dye injected into a vein in your arm, which highlights atypical wet AMD blood vessels in your retina. Then your doctor applies a laser into your eye to close leaking blood vessels. Doctors do not use this therapy often, and people may require multiple treatments before noticing an improvement.
  • Photocoagulation: This uses a high energy laser beam to destroy atypical blood vessels to help stop bleeding and reduce further damage to your macula. However, the laser can cause scarring and potentially cause blind spots in your eye. Because its effects are not permanent, atypical blood vessels can regrow, requiring more treatment. Doctors rarely use this form of treatment.

Mental health matters

Receiving a diagnosis of a health condition that may impact your ability to see is scary and can take a toll on your mental health — especially over time, if your vision changes.It is important to have a strong support network. Consider making an appointment with a therapist to help you cope with the vision loss.

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Although there is currently no cure or way to fully reverse macular degeneration once it begins, you can slow down the progression and stop your vision from getting worse. You can also make some lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration.

Once macular degeneration develops, your eye care team may recommend treatment options to help slow the progression of the disease. Current treatments to slow AMD progression might include eye health vitamins, injectable medications, laser or photodynamic therapy, and even eye surgery.