Diabetic retinopathy can cause swelling of the center of the retina, the macula, and vision loss.

Diabetic Macular Edema - OCT Map

Diabetic macular edema is swelling in the retina associated with diabetes.  The image shows retinal scans of both eyes with central  macular edema.  This patient had 20/40 vision in both eyes.

DME specifically involves the macula, which is the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. The macula is crucial for tasks like reading, recognizing faces, and driving. In DME, the blood vessels in the macula become leaky, allowing fluid and proteins to accumulate in the macular area. This buildup of fluid and swelling in the macula is referred to as edema.

The key features of diabetic macular edema include:

  1. Swelling: The accumulation of fluid in the macula causes it to swell. This swelling disrupts the normal functioning of the macula and can result in blurred or distorted central vision.
  2. Vision problems: Individuals with DME may experience vision problems like blurred vision, distorted or wavy lines, difficulty reading, and difficulty recognizing faces.
  3. Risk factors: Several factors increase the risk of developing DME, including the duration of diabetes, poor blood sugar control, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Management of DME typically involves:

  1. Regular eye examinations: People with diabetes should have regular eye exams to detect diabetic retinopathy and DME in the early stages when they are more manageable.
  2. Blood sugar control: Maintaining good control of blood sugar levels is essential in preventing and managing DME.
  3. Blood pressure and cholesterol management: Managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol can help reduce the risk and progression of DME.
  4. Medications and treatments: Various treatments are available to manage DME, including anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) injections, corticosteroid injections, and laser therapy. These treatments aim to reduce macular edema and improve vision.

If left untreated, DME can lead to permanent vision loss. Therefore, it’s crucial for individuals with diabetes to work closely with their healthcare team and eye specialists to monitor and manage their eye health and reduce the risk of diabetic macular edema. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve the outcomes for individuals with this condition.


Anti-VEGF (anti-vascular endothelial growth factor) treatment is a widely used and effective approach for managing macular edema, including diabetic macular edema (DME). This treatment involves the use of medications that inhibit the action of vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that plays a key role in the growth of abnormal blood vessels and the increased permeability of blood vessels in the eye. By blocking VEGF, these medications help reduce swelling and leakage in the macula, leading to an improvement in vision.

There are several anti-VEGF medications that are commonly used for the treatment of macular edema, including DME. Some of the most well-known ones include:

  1. Ranibizumab (Lucentis): Ranibizumab was one of the first anti-VEGF drugs developed for the treatment of macular edema. It is administered by injection directly into the eye.
  2. Bevacizumab (Avastin): Bevacizumab is another anti-VEGF medication that is used off-label for treating macular edema. It is a similar drug to ranibizumab but is typically more cost-effective. Like ranibizumab, it is injected into the eye.
  3. Aflibercept (Eylea) is a newer anti-VEGF medication that is specifically designed to treat macular edema. It is also administered by injection into the eye.  It is approved in both a 2 mg and 8 mg dose (Eylea HD) for the treatment of diabetic macular edema.
  4. Vabysmo (faricimab-svoa) is a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitor and angiopoietin-2 (Ang-2) inhibitor
  5. Conbercept (Lumitin): Conbercept is an anti-VEGF medication used in some regions, particularly in China. It works in a similar manner to other anti-VEGF drugs.

Anti-VEGF treatment involves regular injections into the vitreous humor (the gel-like substance in the center of the eye). The frequency of injections can vary depending on the specific medication, the severity of the macular edema, and the individual patient’s response. Typically, patients may need monthly injections initially, and then the treatment interval may be extended based on their response.

It’s important to note that anti-VEGF treatment is not a one-time cure but rather a method to manage macular edema. The treatment helps reduce swelling and improve vision, but it may require ongoing administration to maintain its benefits.

The choice of which anti-VEGF medication to use depends on the patient’s condition, their response to treatment, and their doctor’s recommendation. Anti-VEGF therapy has been a significant advancement in the management of macular edema, and it has helped many individuals with this condition preserve or improve their vision.

Steroid treatments are another option for managing diabetic macular edema (DME), a condition in which the macula, the central part of the retina, becomes swollen due to fluid accumulation. Steroid treatments can help reduce this swelling and improve vision in some individuals with DME. These treatments involve the use of corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory medications. Here’s an explanation of steroid treatments for DME:

  1. Mechanism of Action: Steroids, such as triamcinolone acetonide, dexamethasone, or fluocinolone acetonide, have anti-inflammatory properties. In DME, inflammation can contribute to blood vessel leakage and swelling in the macula. Steroids work by suppressing this inflammation and reducing the permeability of blood vessels, which helps alleviate the edema.
  2. Forms of Administration: Steroid treatments for DME come in different forms, including:
    • Intravitreal Injections: One common approach involves injecting a corticosteroid medication directly into the vitreous humor, the gel-like substance in the center of the eye. This is called an intravitreal injection and is performed in an ophthalmologist’s office. The injected medication slowly releases over time.
    • Implants: Some corticosteroid treatments for DME are available in the form of implants that are surgically placed in the eye and gradually release the medication over several months. Examples include the dexamethasone intravitreal implant (Ozurdex) and the fluocinolone acetonide implant (Iluvien).
  3. Efficacy and Duration: Steroid treatments can effectively reduce macular edema and improve vision in some patients with DME. The duration of effect varies depending on the specific medication and form of administration. Intravitreal injections may need to be repeated at regular intervals to maintain their benefits, while implantable devices can provide longer-lasting treatment effects.
  4. Considerations and Side Effects: Steroid treatments may have potential side effects, including increased intraocular pressure (glaucoma) and cataract formation. Regular monitoring of eye pressure is essential when using steroid treatments to catch and manage any increased pressure early. Additionally, there may be a risk of infection associated with intravitreal injections.
  5. Patient Selection: The choice between anti-VEGF and steroid treatments for DME depends on several factors, including the patient’s specific condition, response to previous treatments, and any contraindications or concerns. Some individuals may benefit more from anti-VEGF therapy, while others may respond better to steroid treatments.

Steroid treatments for DME are typically considered when anti-VEGF therapy has not been effective, is contraindicated, or when there is a specific indication for steroid use. The decision on the most appropriate treatment approach should be made in consultation with an eye specialist, who can assess the individual’s condition and recommend the most suitable treatment option based on their unique circumstances.


Focal laser photocoagulation, also known as focal laser therapy, is a treatment option for diabetic macular edema (DME). It is an ophthalmic procedure that aims to reduce swelling and leakage in the macula, the central part of the retina, which is affected by DME. Focal laser therapy works through a process called photocoagulation, which involves the use of a laser to treat specific areas of the retina.

Here’s how focal laser therapy works for diabetic macular edema:

  1. Targeted treatment: Focal laser therapy is precisely targeted to treat the areas of the retina where swelling and leakage occur. It is typically used to treat “microaneurysms” and “leakage points” in the blood vessels of the macula. Microaneurysms are small, weak areas in the blood vessels that can leak fluid and contribute to edema.
  2. Laser application: During the procedure, an ophthalmologist or eye specialist uses a special ophthalmic laser to create small, controlled burns or lesions in the affected areas of the macula. The laser emits high-energy, focused light that is absorbed by the targeted tissue, coagulating (clotting) the blood vessels and sealing the areas where leakage occurs.
  3. Reducing leakage: By sealing off these microaneurysms and areas of leakage, focal laser therapy can help reduce the amount of fluid that accumulates in the macula. This, in turn, reduces the swelling and edema, thereby improving central vision.
  4. Preventing further damage: In addition to addressing existing edema, focal laser therapy can also help prevent further damage to the macula by stabilizing the blood vessels in the treated areas. It does not restore vision that has already been lost but aims to preserve or improve existing vision and prevent further deterioration.
  5. Multiple sessions: Focal laser therapy may require multiple sessions over time, depending on the severity and progression of DME. The goal is to strike a balance between reducing edema and preserving the surrounding healthy retinal tissue.

Focal laser therapy is a well-established treatment for DME, and it has been shown to be effective in many cases, especially when DME is detected early and in cases where the edema is focal or localized. However, it’s important to note that not all DME cases are suitable for focal laser therapy, and the decision to pursue this treatment should be made in consultation with an eye specialist who will assess the specific circumstances of the individual’s condition. Other treatments, such as anti-VEGF injections or corticosteroid injections, may also be considered depending on the case.