Diabetes and vision loss

To understand diabetic macular edema (DME), it helps to get grounded in some of the aspects of diabetes that come into play and that can affect your vision.

What is DME video-Click to watch a video about diabetic macular edema.

Diabetes occurs because the pancreas cannot produce insulin and/or the body cannot use insulin properly. This causes high levels of blood glucose, or sugars, that need to be managed to prevent serious health conditions. The build-up of glucose can affect everything from the eyes to the feet.

Understanding diabetic eye disease

The ophthalmic complications of diabetes are the leading cause of blindness among adults aged 20 to 74 years. Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a condition occurring in persons with diabetes, which causes progressive damage to the retina, the light sensitive lining at the back of the eyes.

DR occurs when blood vessels are damaged because of diabetes. This affects the retina, tissue at the back of the eye, and the macula, part of the retina that enables you to see fine details clearly. High levels of blood glucose can weaken, damage, or block the blood vessels in the retina, preventing the retina from receiving enough blood or oxygen.

What is diabetic macular edema (DME)?

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a condition that can occur with DR and is one of the most common causes of vision loss in people with diabetes.

DME is associated with swelling or thickening of the retina and leaking of blood and fluid into the macula, a small area in the back of the eye that allows for sharpness of vision. This sets a number of processes into motion, including triggering high levels of vascular endothelial growth factor, called VEGF. Excess VEGF contributes to leaky blood vessels and ultimately causes the macula to swell and thicken.

Swelling of the macula reduces the clarity or sharpness of vision at a distance and blurs sight. If left untreated, it can lead to severe and even permanent vision loss.

When treated in its early stages, vision loss can be delayed and, in some cases, improve vision.