There are two major forms of age-related macular degeneration. Which type you have has a big impact on your treatment options and prognosis. Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common type, but also the type without approved treatment options.

There’s more than one type of macular degeneration, an eye condition that affects an area of your retina and can eventually cause blindness.

How macular degeneration advances and how it’s treated depends on the type you have.

In this article, you’ll learn about the different types of macular degeneration and what sets each apart in terms of how they progress, how they’re treated, and how your vision is ultimately affected.

Although there are some forms of macular degeneration that can appear at younger ages, such as juvenile macular degeneration or dystrophy (Stargardt disease), age-related macular degeneration is the most common.

The health of your retina can decline with age, hence the name “age-related,” but beyond that, macular degeneration is split into two major categories: wet and dry.

Dry age-related macular degeneration happens gradually over time as the macula — the part of the retina that focuses your central vision — becomes thinner. Dry or atrophic age-related macular degeneration develops in stages with age, usually beginning sometime in your 50s.

Wet age-related macular degeneration typically develops more suddenly and progresses faster than the dry form. With wet, or advanced neovascular age-related macular degeneration, blood vessels form in areas where they shouldn’t be at the back of the eye.

These blood vessels can cause bleeding and other problems that lead to macular damage and eventual vision loss.

Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common type of macular degeneration, accounting for 85% to 90% of all cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 20 million Americans were living with some form of macular degeneration as of 2019. Out of that total, about 1.49 million people age 40 and up were in the late stages of the disease, regardless of what type.

Overall, the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration increases with age. About 2% of people ages 40 to 44 have some type of this condition, but that number increases to 46.6% of people age 85 and up.

Different types of macular degeneration carry different risks to your long-term vision health.

Dry age-related macular degeneration develops gradually over time, often with no symptoms in the early to intermediate phases. As you enter the late phase of dry age-related macular degeneration, later stage symptoms may include blurry vision, or wavy lines in your central field of vision.

Similar symptoms can appear with wet age-related macular degeneration, but these symptoms tend to appear and progress more quickly.

For both types of age-related macular degeneration, you may have severely blurred vision or even blank spots in your central field of vision.

Treatment is the biggest variable between the two main types of macular degeneration.

Treatment for dry age-related macular degeneration

There are really no approved treatments for dry age-related macular degeneration. This means, there are no approved medications to treat or cure late-stage dry age-related macular degeneration, or to stop the loss of photoreceptors in the macular in the early stages of the disease.

However, if you have a high risk of developing this condition or you’re in the early stages, some treatments or medications that may have even a minimal protective effect include things like:

Laser therapies have been studied in people with dry age-related macular degeneration, but the overall risk of side effects versus potential benefits isn’t quite clear. There are no surgical treatments for the dry type of macular degeneration.

Treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration

Wet age-related macular degeneration, however, has several approved treatments. These medications don’t cure macular degeneration or reverse existing damage, but can help prevent additional vision loss associated with wet age-related macular degeneration. Examples of these include anti-VEGF and anti-PDGF medications like:

Laser therapy, laser therapy combined with certain medications, other surgical techniques, and even gene therapy are also either used or being studied in the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration. Talk with your healthcare professional about the best choice for your particular diagnosis and overall state of health.

There are two major forms of age-related macular degeneration, and which type you have has a big impact on your treatment options and prognosis.

Dry age-related macular degeneration is the most common but also the type without approved treatment options. Certain vitamins and supplements may help, but there’s really no way to stop the progression of this type of macular degeneration.

Your healthcare team is the best resource for selecting treatment strategies for your particular diagnosis, and they can also help you with preventive measures if you don’t have macular degeneration but are at risk of developing it.