The Benefits of Anti-VEGF Injections for Macular Degeneration
It’s possible you may know someone suffering from macular degeneration. Affecting more than 10 million Americans, this disease is the leading cause of vision loss and impacts more people than cataracts and glaucoma combined.
Macular degeneration can cause severe and sometimes irreversible vision loss. This disease is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because it worsens as a person ages. It does not cause complete blindness but it can have a severe impact on doing everyday activities like reading, writing and even seeing faces.
There is currently no cure for the different types of AMD but there has been significant progress made in certain treatments. Currently, the most effective treatment is anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) therapy.
“Early detection of AMD is one of the most important steps in treating this disease. It can give a patient the chance to achieve better results from treatments like anti-VEGF,” says Richard L. Jahnle, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Crozer-Keystone Health. “Anti-VEGF has been shown to slow and even improve AMD in patients who are legally blind.”
What is AMD?
The back wall of your eye, known as the retina, is part of a system that lets you see and form images that are then sent to the brain via the optic nerve. The center part of the retina is the macula. This part of the eye controls your central vision, allowing you to do things like watch TV, drive a car and basically see things in detail.
AMD is when the macula starts to deteriorate, which causes wavy, blurred or spotted vision. Even when this disease is at its worst, you can still have your peripheral vision; however, you may be considered legally blind because you lose your central vision–the ability to see objects that are straight ahead.
Types of AMD
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. While both can affect any individuals with AMD, it is typical for people to first have the dry type, and for it then to progress to the wet type.
“In dry AMD, small yellow or white deposits start to form under the macula,” says Dr. Jahnle. “These deposits, known as drusen, may not affect a patient’s vision when they are small but as they grow over time, they can start to distort central vision.”
Dry AMD is more common and can be less severe than wet AMD. Wet AMD is a more advanced form of the disease and can cause a faster loss of vision.
“Wet AMD is when abnormal blood vessels start to grow under the macula. The vessels can then leak blood and fluid causing damage to the macula,” says Dr. Jahnle. “This process can then lead to distorted vision, blind spots and loss of central vision.”
Understanding Anti-VEGF Injections
In wet AMD, proteins known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) cause the abnormal blood vessels to grow. An anti-VEGF injection works by seeking out and blocking these harmful proteins. When blocked, vision loss may slow and sometimes improve since the abnormal blood vessels are no longer growing and leaking the fluid and blood that damages the macula.
The procedure is performed in an ophthalmologist’s office without the need for general anesthesia. The patient’s eye is first numbed with anesthetic and antiseptic drops. Then the anti-VEGF drug is injected into the eye.
“Patients may need multiple sessions over a few weeks or months,” says Dr. Jahnle. “An eye procedure can sound scary but the injection is quick, relatively painless, and can have a positive impact on a patient’s vision.”
If you experience any change in your vision, talk to your doctor or ophthalmologist right away. Early detection of AMD is the key to successful treatment.