Diabetic macular edema: protect your eyesight from “sugar”

22.06.2022 – 15:10

Diabetic macular edema
How to protect your eyesight if you have diabetes

Photo: BPR

Pensioner Hedi E. has been living with the diagnosis of diabetic macular edema for several years.

Regular check-ups are important for diabetes mellitus in order to be able to identify and treat possible secondary diseases in good time

Diabetes mellitus can literally be an eye-opener. Patient Hedi E. also experienced this and presented her with new challenges. The 70-year-old was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 21. As with many other sufferers, she does not notice at first that her eyes are getting worse and worse. When she found it increasingly difficult to see the signs while driving, she was first prescribed glasses. But even with visual aids, Hedi’s vision is noticeably declining.

Due to her longstanding diabetes, she regularly goes to check-ups – including to the ophthalmologist. There she finally addresses the changes. Your doctor suspects that it is a secondary disease of diabetes mellitus and determines what is known as diabetic macular edema.

The pensioner quickly realizes that she has no time to lose and discusses her treatment options with her doctor. This encourages her and explains to her that she can keep her eyesight with regular injection treatment. “At first I was afraid of the injection. But after overcoming it for the first time, I realized that it wasn’t so bad after all,” Hedi remembers with a smile and adds: “It’s also worth fighting for your eyesight.” She quickly noticed an improvement in her eyesight. Today she is very grateful to her doctor and glad that they took this step together back then.

Keep an eye on your eyes

Similar to Hedi, more than 8.5 million people in Germany live with diabetes mellitus – regular check-ups are important in order to identify and treat possible secondary diseases at an early stage. The appointment with an ophthalmologist should also be taken into account. Because eye diseases are often already well advanced when the affected person notices the first changes. This can result in those affected suffering a loss of vision, which often cannot be completely eliminated. Especially those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes mellitus should have their eyes checked regularly, no matter how old they are.

Appointments with an ophthalmologist are very popular and waiting times can be long. Nevertheless, the important thing here is that the wait is worth it. A timely and early start of treatment can be decisive for the course of the disease.

Diabetes can get in the eye

Diabetes mellitus affects the whole body. The longer diabetes has been present, the higher the risk of complications. Affected people often think primarily of cardiovascular diseases or a diabetic foot, for example, because strongly fluctuating blood sugar or increased blood sugar levels lead to deposits and damage to the blood vessels. What many do not know: the eyes can also be affected. The damaged blood vessels can lead to a deterioration in blood circulation, which the ophthalmologist can see as small bleeding or swelling of the retina. These changes often go unnoticed by patients because they are painless and initially associated with no deterioration in vision. If all this happens in the eye, it is called diabetic retinopathy.

This can lead to the development of a chronic disease, the so-called diabetic macular edema – DME for short. After a while, the damaged blood vessels can lead to a lack of oxygen in the eye. To counteract this, the body forms new blood vessels in the eye. The messenger substance VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) is responsible for this. However, these blood vessels are leaky, fluid can leak out and run into cell layers and the retina. Due to the accumulation of fluid, vision is severely restricted, especially in the macula, i.e. the point of sharpest vision in the retina.

Sufferers may see patchy, distorted, blurry, or wavy vision, and the image may appear erratic.

Possible treatment of diabetic macular edema

Changes in vision are initially imperceptible, so regular check-ups with the ophthalmologist are important. This examines the back of the eye and can detect changes at an early stage. Attention: It is not enough to go to an optician here. If the ophthalmologist detects DME, regular check-ups and, above all, a timely start of treatment are important. Treatment appointments should be kept regularly. Treatment with an active substance that inhibits the growth factor VEGF in the eye is recommended here, so that unwanted vascular growth is stopped. The drug is injected directly into the eye. It is encouraging that vision loss due to DME can be treated well with medication through this usually painless routine procedure.

Visible successes

Regular treatments are also necessary for Hedi E. and this is responsible for the fact that she can pursue her varied hobbies again. She enjoys reading, leads a singing group for the elderly, lets her creativity run free when she paints and enjoys the sun in her garden – here she tends her pond and trims her flowers. Even driving is no longer a problem for them. She only doesn’t like to drive in the dark in the evenings and in extremely wet conditions. However, she also knows that regular check-ups are important and that she has to attend her treatment appointments. “I’m very strict about my check-up and treatment appointments and have my eye fundus checked regularly. That’s the secret of why I’m so happy to be able to pursue my hobbies again.”

The initiative “The Diabetic Eye” – inform and exchange

The initiative “The Diabetic Eye” from the “Center for Vocational Training for Blind and Visually Impaired People” (BFW Düren), the initiative group “Early Detection of Diabetic Eye Diseases” (IFDA), “Working Group on Diabetes and Eyes” (AGDA) and Bayer offers helpful information and services and tips on diabetes and eyes. You will also find a series of personal videos with numerous tips for improving your everyday life and the option of downloading patient brochures.

The initiative’s Facebook page of the same name www.facebook.com/dasdiabetischeauge already has more than 21,000 subscribers. The platform offers those affected and their relatives the opportunity to exchange information.

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