Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the retina in the eye and causes central vision loss. Treatment options will depend on the type of macular degeneration but can include medications such as anti-VEGF drugs.

Macular degeneration causes central vision loss and is typically age-related. It affects the retina, which is a visual structure in the eye. The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that helps a person see. Macular degeneration mainly affects the macula, a small part of the retina necessary for central vision.

Macular degeneration damages the macula and causes the central vision to worsen over time. It can lead to symptoms such as:

  • difficulty recognizing faces
  • blurry vision
  • straight lines appearing wavy
  • dark or blind spots in the central vision
  • difficulty performing typical daily activities such as driving and reading

There are two primary types of macular degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration occurs when cells in the macula slowly break down due to genetic and environmental factors, including aging. Around 85–90% of cases are dry macular degeneration.

Wet macular degeneration occurs when unusual blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood and other fluids that damage the macula and distort vision. This type of the condition is typically more severe and can lead to rapid vision loss.

Macular degeneration currently has no cure, but several treatments can manage its symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

In this article, we will discuss the medications available for macular degeneration.

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Studio Firma/Stocksy

Medications called anti-VEGF drugs can treat wet macular degeneration. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, around 1 in 3 people who take these drugs find that their vision improves, and vision stabilizes in around 9 in 10 people.

“VEGF” stands for “vascular endothelial growth factor,” a protein the body produces to grow new blood vessels. Anti-VEGF drugs reduce the growth of new blood vessels. This can prevent people with wet macular degeneration from developing unusual blood vessels that damage the retina.

Doctors will typically inject the drug into the clear vitreous gel inside the eye. There are several types of anti-VEGF drugs, such as:

  • brolucizumab
  • bevacizumab
  • ranibizumab
  • aflibercept
  • pegaptanib sodium

Anti-VEGF medications are safe but can cause side effects that require immediate medical attention, including:

  • eye pain
  • eye swelling
  • worsening redness in the eye
  • light sensitivity
  • rapid vision loss
  • infections

Biosimilar medications are a class of drugs very similar to biologic medications in function, effectiveness, and safety. Therefore, they work similarly to brand-name biologic medications, drugs that typically come from living organisms and can treat a range of conditions.

Biosimilar medications can mimic the actions of any anti-VEGF drug at a potentially lower cost. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first biosimilar for treating macular degeneration: ranibizumab-nuna, a biosimilar for ranibizumab injections.

Researchers are also developing biosimilar products for aflibercept and bevacizumab.

Some people with macular degeneration may receive other types of treatment for their condition, including:

  • Laser eye treatment: Doctors may offer laser surgery for people with wet macular degeneration that does not respond to anti-VEGF medication. The surgery will seal blood vessels that are leaking blood and fluids to damage the retina.
  • Photodynamic therapy: Doctors may suggest photodynamic therapy alongside anti-VEGF treatment. The procedure involves injecting light-sensitive dye into a vein that gathers around unusual blood vessels in the macula. Doctors then use lasers to activate the medication and seal leaky vessels with minimal damage to nearby tissues.
  • AREDS 2: These supplements can help slow down vision loss. They can prevent the decline of vision in one eye when the other is already at a later stage. However, they cannot help when both eyes are already at a late stage.

Researchers are also conducting clinical trials of some other treatment options. For example, a 2018 trial found that two people with severe wet macular degeneration regained their vision after stem cell therapy. Additionally, gene therapy is showing promise for delaying or stopping the progression of the condition.

Macular degeneration causes damage to the retina and can lead to central vision loss. The type of treatment available for people with the condition will depend on various factors, including whether the condition is wet or dry.

People with wet macular degeneration may receive anti-VEGF injections. These drugs prevent the growth of unusual blood vessels that leak blood and fluid into the retina. Biosimilars function similarly but may be a cheaper alternative to anti-VEGF medications.

Some people may receive other treatments, such as laser eye surgery or photodynamic surgery. Doctors may also suggest supplements to slow disease progression and worsening of vision.