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When you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it can lead to even more health problems. Diabetic macular edema (DME) is an eye disease that happens to about 10% of people with diabetes. 

It can happen to you over time if you have poorly controlled blood sugar that damages the small blood vessels in your eyes and other places in your body. Fluid then leaks into the fovea, or center area of your macula (part of your retina). This part of your eye controls your sharp, straight-ahead vision. 

Symptoms of DME include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing double
  • A sudden spike in eye floaters 

If you have DME, your doctor may suggest you make lifestyle changes to help slow the disease. Those may include eating nutritious food, getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and managing your blood sugar and blood pressure.

Exercise for Eye Health

Experts have found that exercise is essential to your eye health. It can slow DME. Studies suggest there’s more blood flow to the tissue in your eye’s retina after a workout.

To get the most benefits for your eyes, exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. Even moderate exercise helps. Any movement works, like taking a walk, riding a bike, going for a hike, or doing water aerobics. But talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Keep Your Blood Pressure in Check

When you have diabetes, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, which can worsen your DME. Lowering your blood pressure can reduce your chances of further illness. 

Here are some tips to keep your blood pressure in check:

Lose weight. Doctors say weight loss is one of the best ways to lower blood pressure, if you’re overweight. Losing even 10 pounds can help. 

Limit alcohol. High blood pressure can come from drinking too much. Try limiting yourself to one alcoholic drink a day.

Exercise. Dancing, walking, or biking are some exercises you might try, but all movement counts. Remember to add weightlifting to your workout schedule. 

Lower stress. Short-term jumps in your blood pressure can happen when your stress hormones narrow your blood vessels. Stress can also lead to harmful habits that put your health in harm’s way. Those include things like drug and alcohol misuse, sleep problems, and eating too much. Ease your stress with activities like deep breathing and meditation.

Changes in Eating

A healthy and balanced diet helps keep your blood pressure and blood sugar in check. 

Your doctor may suggest the “plate method” to illustrate which foods to eat and in what amount. Here’s what a healthy plate should look like:

  • Vegetables and fruit (1/2 plate). Try an assortment of colorful fruits and veggies.
  • Protein (1/4 plate). Cut back on red and processed meat, and eat more fish, poultry, beans, and nuts.
  • Whole grains (1/4 plate). This includes whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, and brown rice.

Avoid drinks with a lot of sugar; drink water, coffee, or tea instead. And swap oils that have trans fats for oils like olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, and peanut.

One more food tip: Cut back on salt. Experts suggest no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, or around three-fourths of a teaspoon.

Stop Smoking 

The nicotine in cigarettes and other products may worsen your diabetes and eventually cause you to have eye problems, including blindness. Kicking a smoking habit can help curb these negative effects on your health. 

There are different ways to quit smoking. It’s a process that takes time and patience. For some people, it takes many tries to quit for good. Nicotine replacement products can double your chances of quitting cigarettes. These products come in patches, lozenges, gum, oral inhalers, nasal sprays, and pills. You can buy some of them over the counter, while others need a doctor’s prescription. 

Here are some other ideas to curb your nicotine cravings:

  • Avoid the places where you usually smoke, like bars.
  • If you have a craving, wait 10 minutes to see if it passes.
  • Chew gum, hard candy, crunchy vegetables, or other things to keep your mouth busy.
  • If smoking is a way to ease stress, try something different, like deep breathing or yoga.

Visit Your Doctor

A yearly diabetic eye screening helps your doctor spot signs of eye diseases like DME. Keep up with your appointments even when your blood sugar is under control. 

If your DME is caught early, your treatment can work better and may slow your disease. Between your annual appointments, reach out to your doctor if you have any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Your vision worsens
  • You have sudden vision loss
  • You notice floating shapes when you focus your eyes on a single point
  • Painful, red eyes
  • You have trouble seeing in the dark

These symptoms don’t always lead to DME or another diabetic eye disease. Your doctor will need to run tests to find out for sure.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Halfpoint / Getty Images


Prevent Blindness North Carolina: “Eye Diseases & Conditions: Diabetes-Related Macular Edema.”

International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine“Exercise and the Eye: A Call for Prospective, Outcomes-Based Research Collaborations between Exercise Physiologists and Ophthalmologists.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Prevention: Diabetic retinopathy,” “Physical activity guidelines for older adults.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Diabetes and High Blood Pressure.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “6 simple tips to reduce your blood pressure.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Healthy Eating Plate.”

CDC: “Smoking and Diabetes,” “Quit Smoking for Good – You Got This.”

Mayo Clinic: “Quitting smoking: 10 ways to resist tobacco cravings.”