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Diabetic Macular Edema

What is Diabetic Macular Edema?

Diabetic macular edema is a complication of diabetes caused by fluid accumulation in the macula, or central portion of the eye. The macula is filled with cones, the nerve cells that are responsible for sensing light. When the macula begins to fill with fluid, the ability of those cells to sense light is impaired, causing blurred vision that can be severe. Vision loss from DME can progress over a period of months and make it impossible to focus clearly.


Source: US National Institutes of Health, NIH

DME optical coherence tomography

Source: US National Institutes of Health, NIH

The retina of a person with diabetic retinopathy and DME, as viewed by optical coherence tomography (OCT).  The two images were taken before and after treatment 

What Causes Diabetic Macular Edema?

Diabetic macular edema is a result of another complication of diabetes, called diabetic retinopathy, in which blood vessels in the eye are damaged, allowing fluid to escape. There are two kinds of diabetic macular edema, classified by the method in which fluid enters the macula:

  • Focal DME is caused by tiny abnormalities in blood vessels, known as microaneurysms.
  • Diffuse DME is caused by widening of retinal capillaries, the thin blood vessels that are located in the back of the eye.

The severity of diabetic macular edema is dependent upon several factors:

  • Degree of diabetic retinopathy
  • Length of time the patient has had diabetes
  • Type of diabetes
  • Severe hypertension, very high blood pressure
  • Fluid retention
  • Hypoalbuminemia, or low protein in body fluids
  • Hyperlipidemia, or high fat levels in the blood

Symptoms of Diabetic Macular Edema

Patients who suffer from diabetes have a risk of developing DME over time. If you have diabetes you should have your vision checked regularly. Be sure to mention if you notice changes in your vision such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Eye floater