Wet macular degeneration is when blood vessels in the eye leak blood or fluids, causing scarring and vision loss. The condition can quickly become serious and requires urgent evaluation and diagnosis to begin treatment.
Macular degeneration affects the macula, which is an area of the retina. The macula is about 5 millimeters across and is responsible for central and color vision and assists in seeing fine details. It contains light-sensitive cells that send signals to the brain for translation into images.
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. As it affects central vision, it reduces how well a person can see fine details of objects in front of them. However, the disease rarely affects peripheral vision.
This article discusses the types of macular degeneration. We also look at the symptoms, when to consult a doctor, causes, diagnosis, treatments, and frequently asked questions for wet macular degeneration.
There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration:
- Wet age-related macular degeneration: This form of macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow under the retina and leak blood or fluids. The condition causes scarring of the macula and rapid vision loss.
- Dry age-related macular degeneration: This is the more common type that causes parts of the macula to thin and proteins to accumulate, which slowly affects central vision.
The Americal Macular Degeneration Foundation (AMDF) estimates that around 10–15% of people with macular degeneration have the wet subtype.
Wet and dry macular degeneration cause different problems. Dry macular degeneration accounts for most instances of the condition and results from cells in the macula breaking down. The condition causes a gradual loss of central vision.
Wet macular degeneration occurs due to abnormal blood vessels in the retina leaking blood or fluids. It is less common than dry macular degeneration, but typically, the condition causes a more rapid loss of central vision.
Both forms of the condition have similar symptoms.
People with wet macular degeneration may experience symptoms that include:
- gaps and dark spots in the central vision
- difficulty seeing finer details or colors of objects
- sensitivity to light
- difficulty reading
- straight lines appearing wavy
People with the condition typically have normal peripheral vision.
Wet macular degeneration requires immediate treatment to prevent permanent damage. Without a timely diagnosis, the condition can cause severe central vision loss but rarely blindness. Vision loss can prevent someone from performing their normal daily activities, such as driving or reading.
People who experience sudden or unexplained changes in their vision should always contact a doctor.
People with wet macular degeneration may experience a rapid onset of symptoms, such as:
- dark spots
- difficulty seeing colors or finer details
- straight lines appearing wavy in their central vision
Gradual or milder forms of these symptoms could indicate dry macular degeneration.
The cause of wet macular degeneration is the development of new, abnormal blood vessels that leak blood and fluids to damage the macula. It is unclear what causes these new blood vessels to develop.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that risk factors for macular degeneration include:
An eye doctor will assess someone’s symptoms and medical history in diagnosing wet macular degeneration.
For example, they might use an Amsler grid. This is a 10 x 10-centimeter grid that doctors will place in front of someone and ask them to close one eye to look at a dot in the center. They will ask whether the person experiences visual distortions, such as distorted lines or blind spots.
Doctors might also use other tests, such as:
- visual acuity tests, which involve an eye chart to measure vision at different distances
- fluorescein angiography involves injecting a special dye and then taking pictures of the retina as the dye passes through blood vessels to detect leakages
- pupil dilation involves using eye drops to dilate the pupils and allows doctors to examine the retina
- optical coherence tomography is a type of scan that uses light waves to take images of the eye
There are various treatments for people with wet macular degeneration. The condition typically responds well to treatments when doctors catch it early enough.
Doctors may prescribe anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) medications, which reduce the number of abnormal blood vessels affecting the retina. They will administer these medications through injections into the eye.
Anti-VEGF medications may be sufficient to slow the condition and manage its symptoms. Some people may also require additional treatments, such as laser therapy.
Dietary changes are another possible treatment for dry macular degeneration, and doctors may also suggest similar changes for some people with wet macular degeneration.
These can include taking supplements of vitamins and minerals that include:
Below are some frequently asked questions on wet macular degeneration.
How serious is wet macular degeneration?
Wet macular degeneration is a serious condition that can cause rapid and permanent damage to central vision. Anyone with signs of the condition should see a doctor immediately.
What is the main cause of wet macular degeneration?
Wet macular degeneration results from abnormal vessels growing under the retina that leak blood or fluids. However, it is unclear what causes these abnormal blood vessels to develop.
Is wet macular degeneration worse than dry wet macular degeneration?
Wet macular degeneration is less common but more severe than dry macular degeneration. It leads to a rapid onset of symptoms, whereas dry macular degeneration develops more slowly.
How to manage the condition?
The condition requires urgent treatment with anti-VEGF medications that will slow the development of abnormal blood vessels. Some people may receive additional treatments, such as laser therapy or supplements.
The outlook for wet macular degeneration depends on how easily doctors diagnose and treat the condition. If doctors detect the disease early, they can prevent the macula from rapid degeneration and preserve a person’s central vision for longer.
However, late treatment can lead to serious complications. For example, someone may experience severe central vision loss that prevents normal daily activities, such as reading or driving.
Wet macular degeneration causes rapid central vision loss. It results from new, abnormal blood vessels that leak blood and fluids to damage the retina. The damage causes several symptoms, such as blurry vision, straight lines appearing wavy, and blind spots.
People with wet macular degeneration require immediate treatment from a doctor to prevent severe vision loss. Doctors will prescribe anti-VEGF medications to slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels causing the condition.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/agerelated-macular-degeneration-amd
- Boyd, K. (2022). What is macular degeneration? https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/amd-macular-degeneration
- Wet macular degeneration. (n.d.). https://www.macular.org/about-macular-degeneration/what-is-macular-degeneration/types/wet-macular-degeneration
- What is the macula? (2022). https://www.macularsociety.org/macular-disease/macula/