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 leaking retinal blood vessels disrupt the macula of the eye. The macula is a small region of the retina responsible for precise vision used in reading, driving, and other important visual tasks.

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.

Recent advances in treating DME with intraocular medications have reversed DME, and many experience improved vision. However, not every person receiving DME treatment experiences vision improvements. They may continue to encounter persistent visual problems.

Here, we cover tips you can consider using to make living with DME more manageable, whether the condition is mild or advanced. There are also proactive steps you can consider taking to help prevent DME from worsening.

Having the right tools may help you adjust to your vision changes. Low vision aids can 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 font size

An 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 like Prevent Blindness also offer free resources.

If you find that low vision interferes 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 like cooking, housekeeping, paying bills, and even reading the newspaper. It may also help you:

  • set up your home to help 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 sight level, even if it’s reduced, in new ways to continue their usual routines as much as possible. It may cover some of the same needs as occupational therapy like making your home environment safer and teaching you how to use low vision aids.

You can also learn or improve certain sight skills through vision rehabilitation. For example, you may learn techniques like eccentric viewing, a method of seeing with your peripheral vision.

When you live with vision loss, knowing exactly where to find items in your home can help make day-to-day tasks easier. 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 any changes in your eyes. Getting comprehensive dilated eye exams every year can help you identify and monitor any changes. Scheduling a dilated eye exam soon after you find out you’re pregnant is also important.

The best way to prevent DME from worsening is working with your doctor to manage your blood sugar levels to keep them within your target range. Taking steps to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in your recommended range can help, too.

Your doctor may recommend adjusting or changing your treatment plan. They may also suggest lifestyle approaches, including regular exercise, dietary changes, or quitting smoking if you smoke.

If you find it challenging to make lifestyle changes, you may want to consider seeing a certified diabetes educator, who may be able to offer practical guidance.

Here are some questions people often ask about DME.

Can you drive with diabetic macular edema?

Because DME can significantly impact your vision, it may also impact your ability to drive safely. Work with your eye specialist to determine if you should still be driving. You may also be required to report your eye condition to your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV).

Can glasses help macular edema?

Glasses cannot fix low vision related to DME. But other low vision aids, including specific types of magnifiers and telescopic lenses, may help you see better.

How can I reduce macular edema naturally?

When you live with DME, taking steps to manage your diabetes to help prevent vision loss is important. Necessary steps include things like:

  • monitoring your blood sugar levels
  • staying on top of your diabetes treatment plan
  • eating a diabetes-friendly diet
  • exercising regularly
  • quitting smoking if you smoke

Can diabetic macular edema resolve itself?

DME does not resolve on its own. Left untreated, DME can lead to severe vision loss and even blindness.

If you start to notice any vision changes, it’s important to speak with your eye specialist. They will discuss the importance of you receiving a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year.

What worsens macular edema?

If you have macular edema, understanding the underlying cause is necessary for properly managing and treating your symptoms.

A significant change to your vision can present challenges and stress.

But 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 low vision tools, ongoing therapy, and regular medical care, many people with DME continue to live a full, independent life.