A new study shows that early treatment for wet macular degeneration (also known as neovascular age-related macular degeneration, or nAMD) can help people retain their eyesight longer. It’s less common than dry age-related macular degeneration, but more severe. Approximately 11 million people in the United States have some form of macular degeneration; 10% have this more severe form.

Researchers at the University of Bonn found that people with nAMD who were treated with inhibitors of vascular endothelial growth factor (proteins that slow or stop the formation of blood vessels) were able to see longer compared to untreated patients. However, the researchers also found that at least 80% of patients would stop treatment over time.

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in adults aged 60 and over in high-income countries. The condition affects the central part of the retina of the eye called the macula. Some people with nAMD may not recognize the first symptoms, which can then become severe. Symptoms are caused by new, abnormal blood vessels growing under the macula. They include:

  • Distorted vision
  • Reduced vision only in the center of the eye
  • Blurry spots in your line of sight
  • Color brightness and intensity lose their sharpness
  • Cloudy vision

The study

The Germany-based study included 3,192 people with nAMD in Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland who made a total of 67,000 visits for treatment. The researchers wanted to know how well the participants can see with both eyes and compared them to untreated patients. The paper was published in JAMA Network Ophthalmology.

About 12% of the sample had visual acuity good enough to be able to continue driving, and about 15% had good reading vision in at least one eye during their average remaining life – about 11 years. Patients treated earlier in the disease, who were younger and who received more injections within the first year of treatment, were associated with better outcomes. Approximately 82% of the participants discontinued treatment. Previous studies have shown that people drop out of their treatments for a variety of reasons, including lack of transportation to the ophthalmologist’s office and lack of confidence that treatments will help.

Treatment was related to the maintenance of vision in nearly 20% of patients over the average remaining life. The patients who dropped out of the study may have previously had deterioration in vision, the researchers wrote. About 80% of untreated nAMD patients could be at risk of legal blindness within three years of the onset of the disease.

Take that away

Neovascular age-related macular degeneration can lead to irreversible blindness. People who notice changes in their eyesight should consult their doctor. The earlier the problem is diagnosed, the better the chance of preserving eyesight.

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