In wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), abnormal blood vessels form in the eye that leak proteins and lipids. Dry AMD does not involve abnormal blood vessels. It is more common and less severe.

In the United States alone, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) impacts over 10 million people. This condition is the top reason for vision loss among older adults.

Dry AMD is much more common than wet AMD, and it is the less severe form of the disorder.

There is currently no single treatment known to cure AMD. However, making certain dietary and self-care changes can help reduce the risk or mitigate the symptoms of both wet and dry AMD.

Keep reading to learn more about wet vs. dry macular degeneration.

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The retina is a layer of cells that lines the back surface of the human eye. The retina transmits information to the brain, which makes human vision possible.

The macula is an area at the center of the retina. This region is in charge of central vision, which is necessary for seeing fine detail.

During AMD, cells underneath the macula degrade and die, which disrupts the eye’s ability to see centrally. People with AMD still have their peripheral vision, but they have trouble seeing objects in front of them.

Wet macular degeneration

Wet AMD is also known as “exudative” AMD. Doctors diagnose this version of AMD less frequently than dry AMD. It comprises about 10–15% of all AMD cases.

In wet AMD, atypical blood vessels appear around the macula and retina. These vessels can leak proteins or lipids, and they may also cause scarring.

Without treatment, most people with wet AMD will experience considerable and permanent vision loss. Treatment can help reduce the degree of vision loss, but it does not always prevent vision loss entirely.

Dry macular degeneration

Between 85–90% of AMD cases are the dry version of this condition. Dry AMD is usually less visually debilitating than wet AMD, and it does not involve the growth of abnormal blood vessels.

The appearance of many yellow deposits, called drusen, is typically a sign of dry AMD. Drusen contain waste products and lipids deposited from the cells of the retina. As the drusen grow and multiply within the retina, the macula may become less able to generate a visual signal.

People who have dry AMD may experience vision problems, such as a dark or blurry spot in their central vision. However, the symptoms people with dry AMD face are typically less severe than those of people with wet AMD.

In approximately 10% of people with dry AMD, their condition may develop into wet AMD. People experiencing any of the symptoms of AMD should speak with a doctor as soon as possible. Taking early measures to manage the condition can help prevent significant vision loss.

In the early stages of dry AMD, people may experience no symptoms at all. When dry AMD progresses to the intermediate stage, some symptoms may include minor blurriness in the central vision or difficulties seeing in darker spaces.

The symptoms of advanced dry AMD are similar to those of wet AMD. People with either of these conditions may:

  • start perceiving straight lines as wavy
  • see blank spots in their vision
  • have more difficulty with vision in low lighting
  • experience blurry central vision

Anyone experiencing vision changes should consult with a medical professional. The symptoms of AMD vary from person to person, and only a doctor can accurately diagnose the condition.

People with a family history of AMD are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Research shows that people who smoke or experience too much UV light exposure are also at greater risk.

Some other common AMD causes and risk factors include:

  • poor nutrition
  • excess weight
  • high blood pressure
  • not enough physical activity

Age is the most important of all of the AMD risk factors. People over the age of 55 are at a higher risk for AMD, and that risk increases with time.

During the aging process, changes occur to the retina that make AMD more likely to develop.

A 2020 review of AMD studies found that Caucasians are at a higher risk for AMD. They likely have a genetic predisposition for developing this condition.

Finally, some studies have found that AMD is more common among females. However, the research surrounding sex and AMD is limited and inconclusive. More research is necessary to support this conclusion and identify the reasons behind it.

Doctors must examine the inside of the eye to properly diagnose AMD. After a thorough examination, a doctor can determine whether the AMD is wet or dry.

People with dry AMD will exhibit changes in the cell layer underneath the retina. They will also likely have drusen deposits in the eye and may experience damage to the retina itself.

People with wet AMD may have fluid buildup around the retina as well as waste deposits around the macula. Some of these individuals may exhibit a gray or green discoloration due to bleeding below the macula. Finally, there may be evidence of hemorrhaging within or near the macula.

To diagnose AMD, a medical professional will likely use an Amsler grid test. During this test, a person examines a grid of straight lines. If any of these lines appear curved or distorted, the person may be showing early signs of AMD.

Another common diagnostic test is known as fundus fluorescein angiography (FFA). FFA involves injecting a dye that travels into the blood vessels of the eyes. This test uses no ionizing radiation.

This dye can help doctors determine whether there is any leakage in the eye’s blood vessels. If so, this is a clear sign of wet AMD.

People who notice any changes to their vision should consult with a medical professional. An early AMD diagnosis is crucial for effectively treating both wet and dry AMD.

There is currently no treatment available to cure dry AMD. However, studies suggest that taking certain vitamins can help keep dry AMD from worsening. These vitamins include:

Research is underway to find other dry AMD treatments. These include two drugs that target the part of the body’s immune system that attack the retinal cells.

Some researchers are also exploring the use of stem cells to replace the cells in the retina killed in dry AMD.

For wet AMD, doctors may use drugs that can block the abnormal growth of new blood vessels.

This can prevent abnormal blood vessels from growing and disrupting a person’s vision. Scientists are also investigating gene therapy to help restore normal eye function for people with wet AMD.

All forms of AMD arise from damage occurring to cells beneath the retina. As a result, any strategies that can protect the eyes from this type of damage can help reduce the risk of a person developing AMD.

Since smoking is one of the biggest AMD risk factors, quitting smoking or not starting can help prevent AMD.

Exercising regularly can also help reduce AMD risk. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help people lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, further decreasing their risk for AMD.

People who notice unexplained vision changes should consult with a doctor. Those with early AMD may experience blurry central vision or see straight lines as curved or wavy. A doctor should examine people who experience these vision changes, as they could signal the beginning of AMD.

Wet and dry age-related macular degeneration are conditions that become more likely as a person ages. If untreated, AMD can lead to permanent vision loss.

Taking preventative measures can help reduce the risk of AMD developing. There are also several treatments available to address the health consequences of wet and dry AMD.

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having a doctor check their eyes regularly, people with AMD can maximize their quality of life for years to come.