Why macular degeneration drugs can make you go blind — and what to do instead

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

August 3, 2020



Nobody wants to go blind. But anyone over the age of 65 is at risk. And the most common cause of blindness is macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness around the world. And it’s serious business.

To make matters worse, the drugs used to treat the illness can make the problem even worse.

About 85% of patients with macular degeneration have what is called the dry form. This is a milder form of macular degeneration, although it can still cause a significant loss of vision. The real problem is that in some people, the dry form progresses to the more severe forms of macular degeneration — geographic atrophy and wet macular degeneration. Of the two, more people get wet macular degeneration, but geographic atrophy is the worst.

Unfortunately, the treatment for wet MD is very expensive and dangerous. As a result, a lot of people with wet macular degeneration are looking for alternatives to the standard treatments. They don’t want to have their eyeballs injected with a drug every month for the modest price of about $50,000 per year. For some strange reason, the price tag and the idea of having their eyes injected with a chemotherapy drug seems a bit concerning.

A New Study Is Shaking Up the Ophthalmology World

This new study is showing another reason to avoid these drugs. One we did not know about until now. These drugs actually cause geographic atrophy.

The researchers looked at 1,024 patients with wet macular degeneration. All of them were receiving regular injections into their eyes of one of the two drugs used for this form of macular degeneration: Lucentis (ranibizumab) or Avastin (bevacizumab). At the beginning of the study, none of these patients had any signs of geographic atrophy.

But at the end of the study two years later, all of that changed. A whopping 187 of them had developed it. That’s an average of 18.3%. The risk for having geographic atrophy in the United States in people 75 and older is only 3.5%. So that means that if you are over 75 years old, these injections will increase your risk of getting geographic atrophy by 500%! If you are younger, the risk is even greater.

Why Is This So Bad?

To understand the answer to that question, you have to have an idea of what geographic atrophy is. The word atrophy refers to the degeneration and death of cells. In the case of geographic atrophy, we are referring to the degeneration and death of the cells in the retina, especially in the macula. The macula is the part of the retina where our vision is the sharpest. So geographic atrophy is serious business.

That’s because it results in the degeneration of the deepest cells of the retina called the retinal pigment epithelium, or RPE. The RPE helps maintain the health of the rods and cones in your eye. These are the photoreceptor cells in the next deepest layer of your retina. The rods and cones are what actually allow us to convert images and light into sight. They make it possible to see. And here’s the problem. The degeneration of the RPE that happens from geographic atrophy leads to the death of the rods and cones. If severe enough, the result is complete blindness.

A study called the Framingham Eye Study found that as much as 20% of legal blindness in the U.S. is from geographic atrophy. And according to this study, many of these cases could be due to the eye injections doctors have been prescribing. There is other evidence to support that statement.

The reported side effects of these drugs include decreased vision (11%), other changes in vision (18%), disturbed color perception, halos around lights, and over bright appearance of lights. These are the very same symptoms that indicate geographic atrophy. But don’t go yet. Geographic atrophy is not the only risk of the injections.

The other side effects of the drugs include bleeding into the conjunctiva. This happens up to 75% of the time. Eye pain happens up to 35%. Those aggravating floaters that get in the way of seeing happen an amazing 27% of the time when people use these drugs. The chance of getting cataracts goes up by 28%. Other less common side effects are glaucoma, retinal detachment, and eye infections. But here’s the thing.

Drugs Are Not the Only Treatment Available

If intraocular drugs like Lucentis and Avastin were the only treatments for macular degeneration, then in some cases it might be worth the risks. But these drugs are not the only game in town. Way back in 1990, Dr. Eugenio Riva Sanseverino reported on 20 patients with documented cases of either dry or wet macular degeneration.

First, he measured their visual acuity. In addition, he used an imaging technique called fluorangiography. Fluorangiography uses a special dye and camera to measure the blood flow and circulation in the retina. After he completed these tests, he gave the patients ozone therapy. I’ll explain exactly what he did in a moment. But look at the amazing results first.

The author summed up what he saw this way, “The results have indicated that the majority of patients showed an improvement of their ocular condition.” Specifically, after a series of one treatment every week for 14 weeks, both the visual acuity and the fluorangiography improved in 44% of patients with dry macular degeneration. This is especially amazing because according to conventional wisdom even today, there is no treatment for dry macular degeneration. If your eye doctor tells you that you have this condition, the best he can offer is to wait until it turns into something much worse. What a shame that patients with the dry form are not told about ozone therapy. But what about the wet form?

The wet form is a more serious condition than the dry. It progresses much faster and is more damaging to vision. At 14 weeks, Dr. Riva Sanseverino did not see any improvement in patients with the wet form. But here is the astonishing thing. When he continued the treatments for a total of 4 months, he saw an improvement in 14% of the patients. And even more incredible was the fact that in that time, 68% of the patients did not get any worse. All of this without one side effect! If Big Pharma came up with a patented drug that got results this good, your ophthalmologist would be all over it.

Does It Really Work?

But the skeptics would say, “That study was done over 20 years ago. Hasn’t anybody tried to reproduce the results?” The answer is yes. Just two years ago, researchers performed another study. This time they focused on 140 patients with dry macular degeneration. The researchers gave half of the group ozone therapy. The only difference between this study and the first one was that in this case the researchers gave the treatments only twice a month. As you will see later, this is not nearly often enough for maximum benefit. They gave the other half multivitamins. Thus, it was a study to compare the effects of taking a multivitamin to ozone therapy. Here’s what they found.

At the six-month interval, after 12 treatments, the visual acuity in the ozone group had improved. What happened to the visual acuity in the multivitamin group? It declined twice as much as the ozone group had improved. The visual acuity in the ozone group had improved one or more lines in 4% of the patients. That means that on the eye chart, 4% of the patients could read one or more lines higher than they could before. This doesn’t sound like much, but after six more months of therapy things got much better. At that point, 25% of the patients were showing a one or more line improvement. How did the multivitamin group do? Not one of them showed any improvement. And that’s not all.

Actually Stops the Progression

Macular degeneration is a progressive disease that consistently gets worse. In one year of treatment, none of the ozone patients became worse. I repeat, not one of 140 patients treated became worse! Compare this to 40% of the multivitamin patients who lost two or more lines. How about side effects? None. How about side benefits?

The ozone group actually had benefits beyond what happened with their eyes. All of them showed a decrease in their levels of free radicals and a significant improvement in their free-radical control systems. This translates out to living longer and having less disease across the board. Remember that. I will be coming back to this incredibly important side benefit.

In both papers, the researchers gave the ozone therapy in the same way. The technique was invented by German physician Dr. Hans Wolf in 1961, and has been used untold millions of times since then. It is called Major Auto-Hemotherapy or MAH for short. You can learn all about it and also all about all kinds of other ways that doctors use ozone therapy in my book, The Principles and Applications of Ozone Therapy, available at Amazon.com.

In MAH, blood is withdrawn from the patient into a bag or bottle. Ozone gas is then injected into the collected blood. The blood cells immediately take up the ozone. And then the treated blood is given back to the patient. The whole procedure takes about an hour. The two major differences between the two studies was that the second study used a dose that was five times higher than the first study. The first study gave the treatments twice as often. So we have learned from these two studies.

I now use the higher dose, and I use it twice a week for 15 weeks instead of twice a month for a year. The results are faster and better. But that’s not all. If all ozone did was to stop the progression of macular degeneration and improve vision, it would be more than enough. But MAH does so much more. Remember, this is not just a shot in the eye.

This is a treatment for the whole body. Not only do the eyes get better, but the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, immune system, and circulation also benefit. Why?

Because if you’ll remember, MAH dramatically strengthens the body against the damages from free radicals. There simply is no supplement or any other treatment that has this remarkable effect. And that’s why patients getting MAH for macular degeneration also tell me that they have more energy, feel stronger, and even sleep better.

Both of these studies show that most people with dry macular degeneration will have an improvement in vision. The first study also shows that even the wet form can be improved 14% of the time. Fortunately, the results we are seeing are even better than that. But here’s the point. Although the MAH treatments will improve vision in many patients, they will not improve the vision in every patient.

However, they will stop the progression of the disease in every patient. So if you have been diagnosed with this condition, don’t wait until your vision is really compromised. Even with MAH, you might not be able to improve it. But if you start the treatments while your vision is still fairly good, at least you can keep it that way. Many of my patients maintain their ability to read and drive. That way you can be sure that even if you don’t improve, you won’t get worse.

Everyone out there over the age of 65 should have an examination of their retina by an eye specialist. If there is no problem, great. But if there are signs of macular degeneration, I say get proactive and get the MAH treatments. You can find a doctor trained in the treatment of macular degeneration with MAH at the website of the American Academy of Ozonotherapy, www.aaot.us.


Borrelli, E., A. Diadori, A. Zalaffi, and V. Bocci. “Effects of major ozonated autohemotherapy in the treatment of dry age related macular degeneration: a randomized controlled clinical study.” Int J Ophthalmol. 2012; 5(6): 708–713.

Grunwald, J.E., E. Daniel, J. Huang, et al. “Risk of geographic atrophy in the comparison of age-related macular degeneration treatments trials.” Ophthalmology. 2014 January;121(1):150-61.

Richman, Elaine A., PhD. “Geographic Atrophy: The Advanced Form of Dry AMD. What is geographic atrophy? What treatments are coming?”

Riva Sanseverino, E, et al. “Effects of oxygen-ozone therapy on age-related degenerative retinal maculopathy.” Panminerva Med. 1990 April-June;32(2):77-84.

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