Symptoms of Diabetic Macular Edema

Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a buildup of fluid in the macula—the part of your eye that processes what you see directly in front of you. DME can cause blurry vision or even blindness and is a complication of uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

This article discusses the symptoms and complications associated with DME.

eye doctor examination

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Frequent Symptoms

Early DME is often painless and hard to detect.

Symptoms appear when fluid begins to accumulate in the area of the retina surrounding the macula. Microaneurysms—small bulges in damaged blood vessels—release blood, fluid, and proteins into spaces of the eye where they should not be. Therefore, any change in vision, especially in the presence of diabetes, can signal DME.

The following changes in your vision may serve as warning signs of DME:

  • Double vision
  • Rapid degeneration of vision
  • Blurry or wavy vision (can range from mild to severe distortion of vision in one or both eyes)
  • Distorted vision near or in the center of your field of vision
  • Colors appearing faded, dull, or washed out

Rare Symptoms

Without treatment, DME can lead to permanent vision loss (blindness). Also, DME typically affects your central vision, but in more severe cases, your peripheral (side) vision may also be affected. 

Complications/Subgroup Indications

Anyone with diabetes is at risk of developing DME.

The longer you have diabetes, the greater your chance of DME. Additionally, poorly controlled blood glucose levels put you at a greatest risk of severe complications like severe vision loss and blindness because high blood sugar is toxic to blood vessels, especially the small vessels of the eye.

When to See a Healthcare Professional

If you experience new changes to your vision—such as blurry or double vision—you should see a healthcare provider right away.

If DME is suspected, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in eye and vision care.

DME should be evaluated and addressed urgently. If left untreated, macular edema can cause severe vision loss and even blindness.

Summary

Diabetic macular edema (DME) can cause blurry vision or even blindness. It is a complication of uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in young adults. In its early stages, DME can be painless, but over time you may experience changes in vision that may greatly impact your quality of life. 

A Word From Verywell

DME is the leading cause of blindness in people with diabetes and young adults in general. Fortunately, it is preventable if you keep your blood sugar levels at a healthy level.

If you are experiencing symptoms of DME, seek immediate medical attention. DME is also manageable with treatment, which begins with getting your blood sugar levels into a normal range. Combining new treatments—such as intravitreal corticosteroids or anti-VEGF drugs with laser photocoagulation—has reversed the once bleak outlook of DME, even in moderate to severe cases that were once considered untreatable. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the early signs of diabetic macular edema?

    The earliest signs of diabetic macular edema are slightly blurry vision or distorted slight lines in your centermost field of vision.

  • How can you prevent diabetic macular edema as a complication of diabetes?

    The best way to prevent DME is to maintain healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Also, it is important to check in with an eye doctor regularly, especially if you are at high risk of DME.

  • How is diabetic macular edema treated?

    Research has found that the protein vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays a vital role in the development of DME. It is mainly responsible for the loss of integrity in blood vessel walls due to chronically high blood sugar levels.

    To treat it, anti-VEGF medications such as Macugen (pegaptanib), Lucentis (ranibizumab), Avastin (bevacizumab), and Eylea (aflibercept) are injected into the eye. This treatment may be combined with corticosteroids or laser photocoagulation to increase efficacy.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH. National Eye Institute. Macular edema.

  2. Romero-Aroca P. Managing diabetic macular edema: The leading cause of diabetes blindness. World J Diabetes. 2011;2(6):98-104. doi:10.4239/wjd.v2.i6.98

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.