What Is Macular Edema?
The macula is the central portion of the light-sensitive lining of the back of the eye, called the retina. When fluid builds up in the macula and causes swelling, it is referred to as macular edema.
What are the Symptoms of Macular Edema?
The macula is responsible for the majority of clear, central vision, so a disruption in its normal functioning can result in:
- Reduced visual acuity
- Distorted central vision
- Color distortion
Symptoms can vary in severity and duration. If the fluid appears suddenly, the impact on the vision can be immediate. Occasionally, the fluid can build up slowly, taking years for a person to be aware of the signs, as they may not be noticeable until the edema has advanced considerably.
What Causes Macular Edema?
Any disease or condition that damages the body’s blood vessels, that causes them to leak fluid or blood, can contribute to or cause macular edema. They include:
Diabetic Macular Edema
Diabetic macular edema (DME) is one of the most common causes of macular swelling and is a side effect of diabetic retinopathy — retinal disease specific to diabetics. Approximately 745,000 Americans have diabetic macular edema, but over half of them don’t know it yet.
Elevated blood sugar levels can cause the delicate blood vessels in the retina to weaken. As a result, the thinned blood vessel walls become more permeable to fluid and begin to leak fluid or blood into the retinal tissue.
This type of macular edema usually occurs in both eyes and will worsen with prolonged uncontrolled blood sugar levels. DME is the leading cause of blindness in patients with diabetic retinopathy and can occur at any stage of diabetes.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Macular degeneration occurs when the macula begins to break down, usually as a result of aging. In a severe form of AMD called ‘wet AMD,’ abnormal blood vessels grow underneath and through the retina and may leak blood or fluid into the macula. There are approximately 200,000 new cases of wet AMD each year in the United States.
Any surgery that is performed inside the eye can lead to macular edema. Examples include cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery and surgical procedures used to treat retinal disease.
Eye surgery can place pressure on the delicate retinal blood vessels, which can lead to their damage and leakage.
Retinal Vein Occlusion
Retinal vein occlusion occurs when the veins in the retina are blocked. This eye condition affects more than 1.1 million Americans and is a leading cause of vision loss caused by retinal vascular disease.
One consequence of retinal vein occlusion is poor fluid drainage and fluid buildup in the macula. The blocked vein causes increased pressure inside the blood vessel, leading to damage and fluid leakage. The severity of this type of macular edema largely depends on how many blood vessels are blocked, the blood pressure within the blood vessels and the degree of blockage.
Conditions that are associated with retinal vein occlusion: diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension and glaucoma.
Uveitis is a group of inflammatory eye diseases that cause swelling within the eye and destroy healthy ocular tissue. Macular edema is the most common cause of uveitis-associated sight loss.
How is Macular Edema Treated?
Treatment for macular edema will vary depending on what’s causing it. In most cases, it is essential to treat the underlying health problem, such as uncontrolled blood sugar or hypertension, as this may help stabilize, reduce or perhaps even eliminate the macular swelling.
Your eye doctor may advise treating the macular edema itself by sealing off the leaking blood vessels in the retina with a laser or injecting medication into the vitreous humor of the eye to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels.
If these treatments are required, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist or retinal specialist for further investigations and treatment.
If the macular swelling is caused by eye inflammation, your eye doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications either in the form of eye drops, pills or injections.
How We Can Help
Our practice is dedicated to keeping your eyes healthy, no matter what condition you may have. At Eye & Ear of the Palm Beaches, we treat a wide range of eye conditions and diseases, including macular edema and conditions that increase the risk of developing it.
We use the latest in diagnostic and therapeutic technology to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with macular edema or experienced any of its signs, contact Eye & Ear of the Palm Beaches to schedule a consultation.