Living with diabetes takes special care to avoid falling prey to its complications. Some steps can help you prevent its complication, diabetic retinopathy as well as the resulting diabetic macular edema. These include:
- Getting your blood sugar levels regularly checked.
- Getting your eye checked by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) at least once a year or as advised by your doctor.
- Scheduling an appointment with the doctor at the earliest with the first sign or symptom of trouble in your vision.
- Increasing your frequency of eye checkups during your pregnancy.
- Always aiming to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. Take your medications as instructed by your doctor, invest your time in exercises, and follow a healthy eating pattern.
What causes diabetic macular edema?
Diabetic macular edema (DME) is an eye condition that affects people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetic macular edema is a major contributor to several cases of blindness in the United States.
The retina is the part of the eye located at its back. It is the junction where the eye signals are converted to visual signals and carried through the optic nerve to the brain. The center of the retina, known as the macula, helps you to focus your vision and see things. The increased blood sugar levels in diabetes for a prolonged period gradually damage the blood vessels all over the body, including the retina. These blood vessels leak over the retina and cause a complication known as diabetic retinopathy. The leaking builds up in the macula causing the macula to swell. The resulting eye condition is known as diabetic macular edema. Regular eye checkups play an important role in delaying or preventing it.
What increases your risk for diabetic macular edema?
If you suffer from diabetes, you have a 10% chance of getting diabetic macular edema as years pass by. The following factors put you at a greater risk for the eye condition:
- Elevated (or uncontrolled) blood sugar levels for prolonged periods
- Diabetes type 1 (while both types increase your risk, diabetes type 1 makes you more prone to getting diabetic eye conditions than diabetes type 2)
- High cholesterol levels
- Hypertension (especially extremely high blood pressure)
- Kidney disease
What are the signs and symptoms of diabetic macular edema?
The characteristic symptom of diabetic macular edema is blurred or wavy vision. The problem may be more pronounced at the center of your vision. Double vision may also be present, and you may see floaters. You may also see washed-out or faded colors. If left untreated, the condition can progress, and you may lose your vision permanently. The vision loss due to macular edema is irreversible. As soon as you start experiencing vision problems in diabetes, you need to visit your doctor right away.
How is diabetic macular edema treated?
The primary treatment of diabetic macular edema involves controlling your blood sugar levels first. Other treatments are targeted toward the eye. These help you stop the progression of diabetic macular edema and help prevent vision loss. Your doctor will discuss each treatment option with you. They will work with you to decide the best one for you. The treatment options are:
- Focal laser: Uses laser light to close and destroy leaking blood vessels.
- Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) drugs: Injection of drugs that block the development of new blood vessels and decrease the leakage from the blood vessels in the eye.
- Corticosteroid: An injection of steroids into the eye or an injectable steroid eye implant to release the drug over time.
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National Eye Institute. Macular Edema. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/macular-edema