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What’s the Difference Between Wet & Dry Macular Degeneration?

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At a basic level, the difference between wet and dry macular degeneration is simple: dry macular degeneration is more common, typically with less severe symptoms. And the wet type is less common, but the symptoms usually progress quickly and can cause more damage.

However, there is more to it. Even though they are linked to the same disease, both types behave and affect your eyes differently. But the trouble with any macular degeneration is that it cannot be cured or reversed. As long as it’s caught in time by a comprehensive eye exam, treatment can sometimes help slow the disease from progressing, though.

This article explores what each of these macular degenerations is and how they are different. We’ll also touch on some possible treatments and how they can slow the disease’s progression. 

What is Dry Macular Degeneration?

If dry macular degeneration begins in one eye, you likely won’t even notice any symptoms. Your unaffected eye typically does a good job compensating for central vision loss. However, once one eye is affected, the other is also affected in almost all cases. 

Dry macular degeneration usually develops slowly over the years as the macula thins. The symptoms may not be all that noticeable. But as the disease progresses, the symptoms do get worse. You’ll begin losing your central vision, or things may appear blurry.

What is Wet Macular Degeneration?

Unlike the dry type, wet macular degeneration usually comes on suddenly and progresses rapidly. The symptoms you may experience are much the same as the dry version; the only difference in symptoms is the speed and severity in which they appear.

The Difference

Both types of age-related macular degeneration affect the macula; they just do it differently. The macula’s thinning causes blurring and central vision loss with the dry type. 

But if the disease progresses into the wet type, there are two other possible causes in addition to the thinning macula:

  • Abnormal blood vessels: Sometimes, blood vessels grow beneath your macula. If these vessels begin leaking blood or fluid, it can stop the retina from functioning properly.
  • Fluid Buildup: If these abnormal blood vessels leak fluid at the back of the eye between the retina and retinal pigment epithelium or between the retinal layers. This fluid creates a lump in the macula that causes blurring or vision loss.
An image replicating what your vision would look like if you had macular degeneration

Causes of Macular Degeneration

There is no concrete evidence that tells us what causes dry macular degeneration. However, some researchers suggest it’s a combination of genetics and individual factors like diet, weight, or smoking.

Even though it affects the eye differently, wet macular degeneration always begins as dry. Aging is one factor that lets it turn into the less common but more severe wet form. About 20% of people suffering from this disease have wet macular degeneration.

Treating Macular Degeneration

Unlike many eye conditions that can be corrected or fixed, there is no cure or reversing any age-related macular degeneration.

In the case of dry macular degeneration, there are two main things you can discuss with your eye doctor:

  • Because it rarely causes total vision loss, low vision rehabilitation may help you find ways to live with and adapt to the changes in your sight.
  • In some cases, a telescopic lens can be surgically implanted into your eye. This lens might improve your vision slightly by magnifying your field of vision. However, the lens creates a tight field of view which can be a problem in some situations.

If the macular degeneration has progressed into the wet form, your symptoms will be more severe. But there are a couple of additional options you can discuss with your optometrist:

  • Medications to discourage new blood vessel growth in your eye: Bevacizumab, Ranibizumab, Aflibercept, and Brolucizumab are four of the most commonly used.
  • Several different therapies have also shown some success in alleviating and slowing symptom progression: photodynamic therapy or photocoagulation.

Schedule an Eye Exam to Preserve Your Vision

An early diagnosis is one of the biggest keys to preventing severe vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration. The only way to get this diagnosis before noticeable symptoms begin is through regular eye exams. 

If you’re due for an exam or you suspect you may have symptoms of macular degeneration, contact our office today. The helpful staff at Maple Ridge Eye Care are happy to book you in as soon as possible for an eye exam.

Written by Dr. M. Hurlbert

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