Diabetic maculopathy
(abbreviations DME & DMO, diabetic macular oedema)

David Kinshuck



fovea...the yellow dot in the centre of the retina,

The fovea: this is the view of your eye a doctor sees looking,  just like a map. The central area of the retina is the 'macula', shown by the dotted black ring. Light focuses here, so any damage may affect your sight. The very central area, the yellow dot, is the the fovea.


The macula is the central area of your retina. It is responsible for all your sharp vision, such as used for watching TV or reading. It can become damaged in diabetes, with leaks developing (oedema).

Generally, if the diabetes is not well controlled, without treatment, this a progressive condition, as described below.

But now new anti-VEGF eye injections can be very effective in reducing the leakage (oedema) and keeping good sight, and nearly all patients will keep good sight.

Treatment includes

macular oedema causes patchy central vision

Side view of the eye:
light enters the eye from the left and focuses on the macula, the central area of the retina. Damage to the macula affects your central vision.

Remember the 'targets' for good control

By keeping to these levels as much as possible (or lower still) you will be doing your best to stop your eyes getting worse. Occasionally by sticking to these targets your retinopathy will improve, even without laser. Review BMJ17       Eye 17



blood pressure


sudden decrease in HbA1c





sleep apnoea

glucose level






type 2 at diagnosis

Early Maculopathy & laser

early maculopathy, sight still good

Enlarge   A small area of leakage developing in the macula, near to the central area, as indicated by the black pointer. Laser is needed to prevent the leakage spreading out, like a growing tree trunk. As the fovea is not affected, sight will be good. But without laser the leak will spread to the fovea and reduce sight.



Laser was previously the main treatment, but this has largely been replaced with anti-VEGF injections below.    DCRnet T

Areas of leakage develop in retina, and the retina can become boggy like a sponge. The leak can progress, causing more and more damage. If there is a small area of leakage, laser can seal or reduce the leakage and prevent it going on to cause more damage. Your ophthalmologist can see the leaks by examining your eye on a 'slit lamp' in the clinic or using an OCT.

Laser is a very bright light that is very focused so it makes tiny burns on the retina. The burns are so tiny they cause very little damage when treating this type of maculopathy. Once again, controlling your blood pressure, sugar, and fat levels (see Prevention) can help to stop this condition getting worse. Laser for this type of retinopathy is not painful, and is moderately effective (see evidence).

Sometimes the leak needs more than one laser treatment or injection treatment. More often than not more leaks develop over the next few years, again needing laser, as below. See photo, another

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The leaks in the macular area can be sealed with laser treatment.

laser for early diabetic maculopathy

These leaks are called 'macular oedema', that is areas of thickened spongy retina. Most patients with macular oedema need laser.

Mild oedema may settle without laser AJO 08. On the other hand, an OCT may measure an increase in oedema and vision may deteriorate. The leakage is much more likely to reduce if glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels etc are controlled.

Macula is thickened an all diabetic retinopathy patients (Retina 14).






Laser shown as black specs.


Moderate Maculopathy (macular oedema) and anti-VEGF drugs such as Avastin and Lucentis and Eylea (Aflibercept)

focalmaculopathy...a leak in one area

Enlarge Moderate or focal maculopathy with one main leaky area: your sight would be good as the centre... the yellow spot in this picture.. remains healthy.

pioglitazone macular oedema

an OCT scan showing macula oedema


As leaky areas develop, anti-VEGF injection treatment is needed, otherwise the condition will become severe (Severe Maculopathy). See photo tour. (Laser can help a little if injections are not available.)

The water-logging takes 4-6 months to disappear. Because of this, you may not know whether the treatment has been successful until then.

As long as the very centre of the macular area remains healthy, the fovea, your vision will remain good.

Remember a low blood pressure is helpful, as in the table above. See photo. Control of diabetes and 'statins' to lower their cholesterol, providing there are no side effects, helps a great deal. See

VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) is the chemical released by a damaged retina, and this chemical makes nearby parts of the retina leak more. Anti-VEGF drugs such as Lucentis, Eylea and Avastin 'block' the effect of VEGF, and often reduce leakage. (See College statement: & Lucentis/Avastin are equally effective.)

At worse levels of initial visual acuity, Aflibercept is more effective at improving vision NEJM 16. Oph16

If there is a lot of retinal damage, the drugs are less effective JAMA 14





Injections of anti-VEGF drugs and steroid injections

The anti-VEGF drugs:

Intravitreal steroid injections

different types of diabetic macular oedema respond differently to anti-VEGF

subretinal fluid..little improvement in vision

spongy /diffuse oedema...best result, some improvement in vision often

cystoid oedema..poor response...little improvement in vision



different types of diabetic macular oedema respond differently to anti-VEGF enlarge


A patient

Below is a patient 2006 (left photo larger) treated with laser, lowered glucose levels, lost weight, and lowered blood pressure. The right photo (larger) is after treatment in 2007.

exudates disappear after laser


Circinate retinopathy

circinate retinopathy Enlarge
Circinate retinopathy..exudates are in a 'ring' or partial ring.

If the exudate forms a ring this is termed 'circinate' retinopathy as opposite. Laser to the central area of the ring is very helpful, see case 42. and case 54. Usually the leakage dries up after the laser.
Laser cannot be carried out if the centre is the fovea, as otherwise vision would be lost.


Diffuse maculopathy

diffuse diabetic maculopathy

Enlarge Here there is oedema (leakage), shown as the grey patch here. The very centre of the vision can be affected as the fovea is affected (the yellow spot).


Here the waterlogging affects the very central of the vision, and will reduce sight. In the very early stages your sight may be good, but usually, without laser, the leakage increases and your sight will be reduced so reading and watching TV may become more difficult. See photo. Recent reports indicate that Avastin or Lucentis  help most patients, and should be standard treatment.





grid laser for diabetic maculopathy


Laser is may help needed, and may need to be repeated several times.


A 'C' pattern of laser is often applied as above (shown in black).




Severe or ischaemic maculopathy

severe diabetic maculopathy

Enlarge There is considerable water logging in the central area of the retina, and your vision may be very poor.


Your sight can be badly affected. Your doctors will have tried to have prevented this severe condition developing, but sometimes this is not possible even with the best treatment. See photo. As medicine advances we hope fewer and fewer people will reach this stage. Sometimes the tiny capillaries are permanently damaged and treatment will not restore your sight. See Coping with Poor Vision if this has happened to you.

If the macular oedema has not been present long, intravitreal steroids or Avastin may help, as below. Laser is usually needed also. The leak is shown as a dark area in the centre of the macula with a fluorescein angiogram. This is called 'ischaemia' or 'ischemia' or 'ischaemic maculopathy'.


Photos: severe maculopathy and pre-proliferative retinopathy

severe retinopathy..presenting in 2007

enlarge left eye


Glitazones may increase macular oedema

Glitazones may increase macular oedema. If there is retinopathy they drugs should be stopped, and may be replaced in some patients with Exenatide or Sitagliptin. Case 49. If there is no retinopathy they will not have an effect on the retina so are safe from the eye point of view.


pioglitazone macular oedema

left eye, mild macular oedema, good vision

pioglitazone macular oedema

right eye, foveal oedema, good vision. The oedema resolved when the pioglitazone was stopped enlarge


Fluorescein angiography (FFA)

FFA sometimes helps to plan your laser see. The procedure is discussed here and here. It demonstrates leaky areas and other abnormalities.

It particularly helps:

Cataract surgery

This frequently increases macular oedema in patients with diabetes BJO 17  .