Purpose: To determine the yearly incidence of visual loss in the fellow eyes of patients with unilateral neovascular age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and to assess the drusen characteristics portending the greatest risk for this outcome.
Methods: A total of 101 patients with unilateral exudative ARMD and drusen only in the fellow eye were entered into the study and prospectively followed up to 9 years. Visual acuity, color fundus photography, fluorescein angiography, and grading of drusen characteristics were obtained for each patient on entry into the study. Patients were followed at annual intervals with color fundus photography. The study endpoint was the development of choroidal neovascularization (CNV) or geographic atrophy (GA) in the fellow eye.
Results: Yearly incidence rates for the development of an endpoint lesion were between 5 and 14%. The risk of CNV peaked at 4 years and dissipated thereafter. Longer follow-up was associated with a slightly increased incidence of GA. Greater drusen number was most highly associated with the development of an endpoint lesion. Drusen size and confluence were also significant.
Conclusions: The risk of CNV in patients with ARMD is heralded by an increase in the number, size, and confluence of drusen. This risk eventually declines and is followed by later increased risk of GA.