Diabetes is a chronic condition that makes it difficult for your body to regulate blood sugar. When left unmanaged, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health complications throughout your body, including in your eyes.

One vision complication to be aware of is diabetic macular edema (DME). It’s the most common cause of blindness in those who have diabetic retinopathy.

DME is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina (a layer of tissue in the back of your eye) due to uncontrolled high blood sugar levels over a long period of time. The macula, which is in the center of the retina, is the part of the retina responsible for your central vision.

Treatments are available to help prevent permanent vision loss from DME.

Keeping track of your DME symptoms can help you monitor the progression of the condition and work with your doctor to find an effective treatment.

You may not notice any symptoms of DME at first. But over time, DME can cause permanent damage to your macula and irreversible vision loss.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with diabetes get a dilated eye exam every year. During that appointment, your ophthalmologist can examine you for DME and other vision problems related to diabetes.

What is an ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists are eye doctors who have advanced medical and surgical training. They can diagnose and treat a wide variety of eye conditions, including diabetic macular edema (DME). Some ophthalmologists specialize in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the retina.

A doctor or optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist if you need more invasive treatments, such as surgery, laser therapy, or injections into your eye.

If you develop significant DME, you may have to see your ophthalmologist as often as once per month.

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Keeping a log of symptoms can be especially important for people who are at higher risk for DME. According to a 2017 research review, African Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans have a higher risk of DME than non-Hispanic white Americans. This may be due to the higher rates of diabetes in these communities.

A 2013 study that involved more than 440,000 adults with diabetes showed that people with the following conditions may also be at a higher risk of developing DME:

  • diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • diabetic nephropathy (damage to blood vessels inside the kidneys)
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)

If you experience any changes in your vision, make note of what’s going on and talk with your doctor to see whether you have DME.

DME can cause a range of changes to your vision. Here are some of the most common symptoms of DME to track:

  • fluctuating vision that changes from morning to night or from day to day
  • blind spots (scotomas)
  • blurred central vision in one or both eyes
  • colors appearing washed out
  • distorted or wavy vision (metamorphopsia)
  • an increase in floaters in your vision
  • increased difficulty reading at any distance

There are a variety of ways to keep track of DME symptoms and changes to your vision.

Some people use a paper log or a calendar. If you choose to track your symptoms this way, consider dedicating one notebook or calendar exclusively to your DME symptoms so it’s easier to notice changes over time.

Digital tools can also help you track your DME symptoms. You may choose to use an app such as Flaredown or Tally. Or you can simply jot your symptoms down in your smartphone’s notes app or calendar.

Regardless of how you decide to track your DME symptoms, consistently recording changes to your vision can help you share helpful information with your doctor and get treatment, if necessary.

Consider setting aside a few moments at the end of each day or week to record your symptoms.

If your vision symptoms are worsening, connect with your ophthalmologist right away to see what’s going on. According to the National Eye Institute, an eye care professional can test you for DME and vision damage using the following diagnostic tools:

  • Visual acuity test: This test involves trying to read letters from a standardized chart.
  • Dilated eye exam: This exam involves placing drops in your eyes to dilate your pupils so that your ophthalmologist can check for disease in your retina.
  • Optical coherence tomography: During this procedure, an eye care professional will use a special light and camera to check the severity of swelling in your macula.
  • Fluorescein angiogram: This test involves an injection of dye to identify damage to your macula.
  • Amsler grid test: During this test, you’ll look at a square with a grid pattern and a central dot. This can help an eye care professional detect small changes in your vision.

The results of these tests can help your ophthalmologist determine whether you have DME and need treatment.

You should make an appointment with your ophthalmologist if you experience sudden changes in vision. If your vision becomes blurry, spotty, or hazy, you should not delay in making an appointment with your doctor.

Keep in mind that you may experience symptoms in only one eye.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause serious health complications, including blindness due to DME.

Monitoring changes to your vision can help you check for symptoms of the condition and inform treatment decisions. You can track your DME symptoms on a calendar, in a notebook, or through an app.

If you notice problems with your vision, talk with your ophthalmologist right away. They can test you for DME and help determine whether treatment is necessary.

Sometimes, DME goes away on its own. But most of the time, it’s a chronic condition that requires management. With the right treatment, you can help protect your eyes from long-term damage and potentially experience improvements in your vision.