It goes without saying that diabetes is a complex disease to manage. All diseases come with complications, but nothing requires more monitoring and a hands-on approach than diabetes. You have to regulate your blood sugar, take the right medication at the right time, watch your diet and the list goes on.
That being said, it can be easy to let your eye health slide. With all you need to manage, your eyes are the least of your worries. However, those with diabetes should be monitoring their eyes probably more than anyone else.
If your diabetes gets out of hand, it can lead to several eye diseases that can sometimes cause permanent damage. We’ve covered diabetic retinopathy extensively on our blog, but what we haven’t talked about is diabetic macular edema or DME; a complication of diabetic retinopathy.
What is Diabetic Macular Edema and What Causes It?
Diabetic edema is a very common complication of diabetes. It refers to the swelling of certain body parts due to water retention. The most common places that this swelling occurs in is the legs; affecting the ankles, feet and knees. It is often caused by long periods of standing.
Diabetic macula edema is the same condition. It is the swelling of the macula in the eye due to fluid retention. However, it is obviously not caused by standing for too long. We don’t stand on our eyes!
No, what actually causes this condition is diabetic retinopathy, which refers to the leaking of blood vessels in the eye. When these blood vessels leak, the fluid is stored in the eye with nowhere else to go. When diabetic retinopathy is left untreated, it can trigger DME in the eye.
DME is split into two types: focal DME and diffused DME. Focal DME occurs when there are abnormalities in the blood vessels; while diffused DME occurs due to the swelling of very thin blood vessels called retinal capillaries. DME is classified into two types simply to better treat the condition.
DME is very treatable and often does not result in permanent vision loss, though you may experience vision loss due to the diabetic retinopathy.
DME is a little scary in the sense that you may not even know you have it. There are often little to no symptoms. If you have diabetic retinopathy already you may want to keep an eye out for symptoms such as:
- Blurred central vision
- Vision will have a pinkish hue as if you’re looking through literal rose colored glasses
- Double vision
- “Wavy” vision: where things like door frames or windows which have normally straight lines will seem wavy
- Heightened sensitivity to light and glare
If you are diabetic and have any of these symptoms, regardless of if you have diabetic retinopathy or not, call your doctor immediately. A lot comes with being diabetic and that includes taking care of your eyes. There is no excuse not to unless you want to lose your vision, and we don’t think that’s the case.
There are several treatment options when it comes to treating DME. Treatments are often simple, but do require a relatively long recovery time. Depending on what your chosen treatment is recovery can last anywhere between three to six months.
Eye Drops and Medication
The most common treatments for non-severe focal and diffused DME are eye drops. These anti-inflammatory drops are to be used daily to help stop the leaking in the eye. The amount of time needed for the eye drops is entirely dependent on the individual and the progressiveness of the disease.
Anti-inflammatory oral medication is also available and acts exactly as the eye drops.
Sometimes, when blood vessel growth is happening too quickly in the eyes, special medication may need to be injected directly into the back of the eye. This will slow the growth of these new blood vessels and stop the old ones from leaking.
Laser photocoagulation is another method used to treat DME. The laser is only used in severe cases or in cases where the medication treatments have failed. Laser photocoagulation doesn’t always correct the problem or improve vision after the procedure.
The laser is used to essentially seal the blood vessels the way you’d cauterize a wound. Depending on which type of DME you have (focal or diffused), the grid of the laser will differ.
Though the laser is for the most part painless, it has been reported that a slight burning sensation may occur when the laser hits the eye. The procedure has to be repeated more than once (on different occasions) to be fully effective. However in some, the problem returns soon after.
To prevent DME you need to prevent the root of the problem: diabetic retinopathy. Doing so is probably easier than you’d think.
First, you need to have your diabetes under control. This is the most important step because it affects your entire body. Make sure to regulate your blood sugar levels, your blood pressure and your cholesterol. If you already do all of this, great! You’re one step ahead.
Second, you need to change your diet and adopt a more active lifestyle. Healthy eating habits that include essential vitamins and minerals, and a little exercise to maintain a healthy weight can go a long way with a disease like diabetes. Both these elements will help with regulating your diabetes.
Third, see your eye doctor once a year. Diabetes can directly affect your eyes, but you may not always no it. The only way to be truly certain of an eye condition like DME is to have a comprehensive eye exam. The earlier DME is caught, the more easily it can treated.
Stay ahead of DME by taking care of your eyes and staying on top of your diabetes. Diabetes is a complex disease, but it doesn’t have to be your entire life. Learning the proper care will allow you to live a life that is filled with great vision and optimal health.