Laser treatments are an effective treatment option for certain people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is one of the leading causes of vision loss and blindness in U.S. adults.

There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. Laser treatments can treat wet AMD, but not dry AMD. However, treatments may be used to treat other co-occurring eye conditions for people with dry AMD.

Lasers can seal the abnormal blood vessels that grow, leak, and cause vision loss for people with wet AMD. While laser treatments are not a cure for vision loss from AMD, they can slow progression and help maintain the vision you have.

Let’s go over who is a good candidate for AMD laser treatment, what procedures are available, and any complications to know about.

There are two types of AMD: wet and dry AMD. Laser treatments are only used for wet AMD.

Dry AMD progresses slowly. It’s generally treated with low vision aids, such as glasses and magnifiers, and with dietary supplements called AREDS 1 and 2.

Wet AMD usually progresses more rapidly than dry AMD. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath your retina and leak into your eye. This can cause scarring, damage, and rapid vision loss.

Generally, before recommending laser treatments, doctors will prescribe a medication regimen called anti-VEGF drugs that seek to control the growth of blood vessels. These treatments are done via several injections directly into the eye, but they don’t work for everyone with wet AMD.

Laser treatments can help slow down vision loss in people with wet AMD that isn’t responding to anti-VEGF medications.

Lasers are used to stop the damage caused by abnormal blood vessels. The light beams seal off blood vessels to stop the leaking and resulting damage to your eyes.

This means laser surgery for wet AMD can slow down vision loss and reduce your symptoms. The procedure length varies by type, but they’re generally done as an outpatient procedure in a doctor’s office and have minimal recovery time.

Thermal laser photocoagulation

Thermal laser photocoagulation is sometimes called “hot” laser surgery. You’ll have this surgery at an eye clinic or your eye doctor’s office. The procedure uses a laser to seal off the abnormal blood vessels in your eyes and prevent leaking.

During the procedure:

  1. An eye care professional will give you numbing eye drops and injections to ensure you’re not in pain.
  2. They will place a special contact lens in your affected eye. The lens will help the laser focus on your retina.
  3. The laser will close off the blood vessels.
  4. You’ll temporarily cover your eye to block light and help you heal.

You’ll need to have someone drive you home due to having received anesthesia. Someone should also stay with you after the procedure to make sure there are no complications. It might be several hours before you can remove your eye covering.

In many cases, your doctor will advise you to stay inside for several days following your procedure. Direct sunlight can be hard on the treated eye(s), which will be sensitive.

Your doctor might also advise you to take over-the-counter pain (OTC) medications to help manage any soreness in the days after your treatment.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a laser and medication together to help treat wet AMD. The medication is injected into your arm right before the procedure.

The medication reacts to light. It collects abnormal blood vessels in your eyes and is activated by the laser. This creates clots that seal off the blood vessels.

During the procedure:

  1. An eye care professional will give you an injection of light-sensitive medication.
  2. They will also give you numbing eye drops to make sure you don’t feel any pain.
  3. The eye care professional will place a special contact lens in your eye. The lens will help the laser focus on your retina.
  4. You will receive laser treatment. It will activate the medication and cause it to form clots in the abnormal blood vessels. This will seal off the vessels and prevent leaks.
  5. Your eye will be temporarily covered to block light and help you heal.

Just like thermal laser photocoagulation, you will need someone to drive you home and stay with you following the procedure. You’ll need to keep your eye covered for a few hours after the treatment, too. Your vision might still be blurry once you remove the covering.

Your doctor will likely advise staying indoors for a few days and taking OTC pain medication as needed.

Laser surgery for AMD can reduce vision loss and help with the symptom of wet AMD. However, it is not a cure.

Blood vessels can leak again, so further treatments might be needed. Additionally, not all affected vessels can be treated by laser surgery. The untreated vessels can continue to leak and cause damage. The damage will likely be slower than before treatment, but it will not stop completely.

Laser treatments can also destroy some of the healthy tissue that surrounds the abnormal blood vessels, although this is more common with thermal laser.

Laser surgery for AMD is generally considered safe, but there are some risks to be aware of. These include:

  • temporary blurriness in your vision
  • short-term hypersensitivity to the sun and bright lights
  • increased risk of sunburn
  • damage to surrounding eye tissue and structures, including retina
  • causing a blind spot
  • bleeding in the eye
  • return of abnormal blood vessels

FAQ: Can laser therapy prevent AMD?

Laser therapy can’t prevent AMD. Having laser treatments has not been shown to prevent or reduce the risk of AMD.

Macular degeneration isn’t fully preventable because it’s likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

However, there’s plenty you can do to lower your risk of AMD and other eye diseases, like getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and attending routine eye exams.

Learn more about eye health below:

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Laser surgery is a treatment for people with wet AMD that isn’t responding to treatment with anti-VEGF medication or has high risk features.

These procedures close or destroy abnormal blood vessels to prevent them from leaking. This can slow vision loss and reduce the symptoms of wet AMD.

Any laser surgery for wet AMD is typically an outpatient procedure done in an eye clinic. Recovery time is usually minimal, but you will need to have someone else drive you home from your procedure. You might need to stay indoors for a few days to avoid direct sunlight, too.

While laser treatments aren’t a cure for wet AMD, they are considered a safe and effective way to reduce AMD’s progression and severity.

If you have wet AMD and feel your current treatment regimen isn’t working, talk with your doctor about whether you may be a candidate for laser surgery.