Diabetic macular edema is an eye condition that results as a complication of diabetes. It’s a type of diabetic retinopathy.

This happens when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in your retina, which is a layer of tissue that lines the back of your eyes.

Those vessels may leak and cause retinal swelling. When this swelling happens in a specific part of the retina called the macula, it’s considered diabetic macular edema.

Many people might not realize that diabetic macular edema is the leading cause of new blindness across the country. Up to 10 percent of people with diabetes may have the condition, according to the advocacy group Prevent Blindness.

Despite the prevalence of diabetic macular edema, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the disease. Learning the truth can help you find the best route to treatment that’s right for you and prevent blindness.

Here are seven common myths about diabetic macular edema.

While diabetic macular edema can cause blindness, the condition doesn’t always lead to a complete loss of vision.

Controlling risk factors and getting proper treatment for diabetic macular edema can help reduce your risk of going blind from the disease.

It’s important to note that diabetic macular edema is chronic, which means it needs to be managed over the long term.

Some treatments, like anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections, must be repeated over time, but can lead to a positive outlook for many people with diabetic macular edema.

Anyone with diabetes can get diabetic macular edema. That includes people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It can also affect someone with gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy.

That said, people with type 1 diabetes may be at greater risk for diabetic macular edema than those with type 2 diabetes.

Research from 2016 found that 14 percent of people with type 1 diabetes had this complication, compared with 6 percent of people with type 2.

Getting your eyes checked regularly can help your doctor catch and treat vision complications from diabetes early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with diabetes get a dilated eye exam at least once every 12 months.

Diabetic macular edema can come on gradually, so you might not notice any changes to your vision at first.

Therefore, many people don’t realize they have diabetic macular edema in its early stages.

Over time, people with diabetic macular edema may notice blurring in their central vision. Other symptoms include:

  • double vision
  • a rapid increase of eye floaters
  • colors look washed out

If you notice any changes in your vision or symptoms of diabetic macular edema, it’s important to connect with your eye doctor to get it checked out.

The risk of diabetic macular edema increases with the progression of diabetic retinopathy.

However, the condition isn’t limited to advanced diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic macular edema can occur even during early stages of this diabetes-related vision complication.

Early detection can help prevent vision loss. That’s why it’s important for people with diabetes to get a dilated eye exam every year.

While you may need to make adjustments to your workout routine if you have diabetic macular edema, the condition doesn’t have to stop you from exercising altogether.

Certain exercises, like high-intensity aerobics, can increase pressure in the eye and put you at risk of a hemorrhage (bleeding), according to a 2010 joint position statement by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

The ADA suggests that people with diabetic retinopathy should avoid activities that involve:

  • heavy lifting
  • straining
  • holding your breath while pushing or lifting an object
  • putting your head down
  • isometric exercise

However, more moderate activity can be a safe and healthy way to exercise. This might include:

  • walking
  • water aerobics
  • light stretching
  • cycling

Getting diagnosed with diabetic macular edema doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start immediate treatment.

If the condition is in its very early stages, your doctor may recommend close monitoring at first, in accordance with recommendations from the International Diabetes Federation.

Once diabetic macular edema begins affecting your vision, your doctor may recommend moving forward with treatment.

Treatment options for diabetic macular edema include:

  • laser therapy
  • anti-VEGF injections
  • steroid injections
  • vitrectomy

Connect with your doctor to learn more about these treatments, along with the potential risks and benefits involved.

Treating diabetic macular edema often involves eye injections of corticosteroids or anti-VEGF medications.

During the treatment, someone on your care team will numb your eye, then use a small needle to inject the medication.

While getting an injection into your eye can sound daunting, it’s generally not as painful as people expect.

A 2020 study on eye injections found that people gave the procedure an average score of 3.69 on a pain scale, in which 0 was the lowest and 10 was the highest.

Interestingly, the study found that people who had higher levels of anxiety about eye injections tended to rate the procedure as more painful.

Finding ways to relax before your appointment, such as through deep breathing or listening to soothing music, could help keep you more comfortable.

Diabetic macular edema is a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. It’s characterized by swelling in the center of the retina.

While rates of diabetic macular edema tend to be higher among people with type 1 diabetes, it can also affect those with type 2 diabetes. Getting a dilated eye exam every year can help detect the condition early.

If you notice changes in your sight, such as blurring in the central part of your vision, connect with your doctor for further evaluation. Treatments are available to help prevent blindness from diabetic macular edema.