What is macular oedema?

The macula sits in the centre of your retina, the area at the back of the eye that receives light and sends it to the brain as electrical signals. The macula’s job is to use its millions of light-sensitive cells to provide clear, central vision.

If the macula becomes damaged, your central vision will be affected usually appearing blurry, distorted or darker.

In the case of macular oedema, fluid leaks from damaged blood vessels and interferes with how we see detailed vision and the subtleties of colour.

Symptoms of macular oedema

The symptoms of macular oedema will vary according to how swollen the macula is and whether it is in one or both eyes.

Most people will notice one or more of the following:

  • Blurred or wobbly vision
  • Vision loss/difficulty reading
  • Washed-out colours

If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, see an optometrist as soon as possible. Severe and untreated macular oedema can result in long lasting and severe damage to your eyesight.

Cloudy vision >

Diabetic macular oedema (symptoms)

If you’re diabetic, you may be at risk of diabetic macular oedema. While the symptoms would be similar to the above, it’s more likely that it could occur in both eyes, rather than just one.

As with other diabetes-related eye conditions, it’s advisable to ensure you have regular eye tests so that your optometrist can keep note of your eye health.

Diabetic retinopathy >

Causes of macular oedema

Macular oedema is not a disease itself, more a result of other diseases or eye trauma that cause fluid to build up in the macula and make it swell.

Common causes include:

  • Diabetes  – high blood-sugar levels weaken blood vessel causing them to leak into the macula.
  • Macular degeneration  – a common cause of sight problems as we get older. Age-related macular degeneration comes in two forms – wet and dry.
  • Hereditary/genetic conditions
  • Inflammatory eye diseases – anything that causes inflammation and swelling in the eye can affect the macula, for example uveitis. 
  • Surgery – macular oedema may occur as the result of cataract, glaucoma or retinal surgery.
  • Medicines – be sure to alert your optometrist to any medications you are taking as some can have side effects that cause macular oedema.

Diagnosing macular oedema

To get a good look at your retina, your optometrist can dilate your pupils and use a magnifying lens to examine the back of your eye more closely. They will also test your vision, check the eye’s pressure using a tonometer and may use optical coherence tomography (OCT) to scan your retina and look for swelling.

Diagnosing diabetic macular oedema

Diabetic macular oedema doesn’t always have obvious symptoms, so it’s a good idea to ensure you’re having regular eye appointments or pop along to your optometrist if your eye/eyesight feels different.

Treatment for macular oedema

To effectively treat macular oedema, you need to stop the blood vessels leaking into the macula and encourage the retina to absorb the fluid.

The key is to find out what is causing the blood vessels to leak (diabetes, high blood pressure, post-surgical inflammation) and then address the swelling in the macula.

Treatment for macular oedema can include: eye drops, tablets, injections or, in some cases, surgery.

Treatment times will vary depending on the underlying cause of macular oedema but typically take several weeks or months.

FAQs

Does macular oedema go away by itself?

Macular oedema can resolve itself but, as with any changes to your eyesight, it’s much safer to get a professional to check your eyes thoroughly.

Can you go blind from macular oedema?

No. Macular oedema can seriously impair your vision but won’t get bad enough to cause full blindness. However, it’s always safer to speak to an optometrist about treatment options and to make sure there’s not another condition causing issues.