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 the body, including 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. This condition is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina (a layer of tissue in the back of the eye) from uncontrolled high blood sugar levels over a long period of time.

If those blood vessels in the retina leak fluid, a part of the retina called the macula can swell, causing DME.

However, 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. 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 the eye.

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Your annual eye checkup isn’t the only time to be aware of changes to your vision, though. Tracking your symptoms between appointments can help you spot early signs of DME and get treatment right away, ultimately helping to preserve your vision.

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

Research from 2013 that involved over 440,000 adults with diabetes also showed that people with the following conditions may also be at a higher risk of 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, changing from morning to night or day to day
  • blind spots, also called scotomas
  • blurred central vision in one or both eyes
  • colors appearing washed out
  • distorted or wavy vision, also called metamorphopsia
  • increase in floaters in your vision
  • increased difficulty in 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, like Flaredown or Tally. Or simply jot your symptoms down on your smartphone’s notes app or calendar.

Regardless of how you decide to track your DME symptoms, recording changes to your vision on a consistent basis 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 drops placed on the eyes to dilate the pupils to help the ophthalmologist check for disease in the 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 the macula.
  • Fluorescein angiogram: This test involves an injection of dye to identify damage to the macula.
  • Amsler grid test: This test can help detect small changes in your vision by looking at a square with a grid pattern and central dot.

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

When caught and managed early, the outlook for DME is promising. DME has no cure, but there’s a range of effective treatments that can help protect your vision and potentially reverse eye problems.

More than half of people who get treated for DME experience improvements in their vision, according to a 2013 article from Johns Hopkins Medicine. Although there are treatment options that can help improve vision outcomes in DME, taking steps to manage blood sugar levels may help prevent DME from developing or becoming worse.

In addition to managing your blood sugar levels, DME treatments include:

  • antivascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) injections into the eye
  • injections of corticosteroids into the eye
  • laser therapy
  • surgery

Each treatment comes with its own potential risks and benefits, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to determine which treatment is right for you.

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

Monitoring changes to your vision can help you check for signs 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.