Diabetic macular edema (DME) is a condition that can affect people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It’s related to diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of living with diabetes for many years.
DME occurs when diabetic retinopathy damages the macula of the eye. The macula is a small part of the retina, an important piece of tissue at the back of the eye that helps you see.
Over time, living with high blood sugar levels can damage the body’s blood vessels, including those in the eye. With DME, damaged blood vessels in the eye leak fluid that causes the macula to swell.
DME can cause blurred vision, double vision, eye floaters, and other symptoms. These changes to your sight can make day-to-day life more challenging.
Here, we cover tips that you can use to make living with DME more manageable, whether the condition is mild or advanced. You can also take proactive steps to help prevent DME from worsening.
Having the right tools may help you adjust to changes in your vision. Low vision aids help you live independently and do things like watch TV and read.
Examples of low vision aids include:
- large-print newspapers, magazines, books, and medication labels
- magnifying glasses, lenses, screens, and stands
- high-intensity or extra-bright reading lamps
- telescopic lenses for seeing far away
- e-readers, computers, and tablets that let you enlarge the size of the font
Your eye specialist can suggest resources to help you find low vision aids. Your local library may offer a variety of large-print reading options. Organizations such as Prevent Blindness also offer free resources.
If you find that low vision is interfering with your day-to-day life, occupational therapy or vision rehabilitation may make a difference.
Occupational therapy can make it easier for you to continue to do daily activities and tasks, such as cooking, housekeeping, paying bills, and even reading the newspaper. It may also help you:
- set up your home to avoid accidents and prevent injuries
- use low vision aids effectively
- problem solve and advocate for yourself in new situations
Vision rehabilitation focuses on helping people use their current level of sight, even if it is reduced, in new ways to continue their usual routines as much as possible. It may cover some of the same needs as occupational therapy, such as making your home environment safer and teaching you how to use low vision aids.
You can also learn or improve on certain sight skills through vision rehabilitation. For example, you may learn techniques such as eccentric viewing, a method of seeing with your peripheral vision.
Knowing exactly where to find items in your home can help make day-to-day tasks easier with vision loss. Occupational therapists can help you set up an organizational system.
Some common approaches include:
- organizing your clothes by color
- keeping medications arranged and labeled in a way you can understand
- keeping bills and important papers in color-coded piles or folders
- setting up online accounts so you can enlarge the font of bills, insurance statements, or other important documents
It’s important to monitor the changes in your eyes by getting comprehensive dilated eye exams every year. If you’re pregnant, it’s important to have a dilated eye exam soon after you find out that you’re pregnant.
The best way to keep DME from worsening is to work with your doctor to manage your blood sugar levels and keep them in a target range. Taking steps to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in a healthy range can help, too.
Your doctor may recommend adjusting or changing your treatment plan. They may also suggest lifestyle approaches, including exercising more, making changes to your diet, or quitting smoking. If you find it challenging to make lifestyle changes, consider seeing a certified diabetes educator, who may be able to offer practical guidance.
A significant change to your vision can present real challenges and stress. Keep in mind that early treatment for DME can help prevent the condition from worsening, and even reverse vision loss in some cases. With the right tools, therapy, and medical care, you may find that you can continue to live a full, independent life.