Diabetic Macular Edema Almost Stole My Sight

One woman shares her ongoing battle with diabetic macular edema, a chronic condition that untreated can lead to blindness.

by Lambeth Hochwald Health Writer

Ashley Loerzel, 35, a hairstylist with type 1 diabetes, who lives in Orlando, FL, was diagnosed with diabetic macular edema (DME) six years ago and, ever since, she has needed regular eye injections to retain her vision. Read on as she shares her thoughts and feelings. Her goal? To help people with DME cope with the condition and feel less isolated.

I was 12 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and so I've had years of practice learning to manage my condition. I'm careful about my diet (no white flour anything) and taking my medications (though every insulin shot still brings a little anxiety). But what I didn’t expect was for my eyesight to change so suddenly.

When I was 29 years old, one of my friends told me she was going for an eye appointment, and I realized I had missed my annual appointment so I went along with her. I hadn't noticed any blurriness nor did I have any other symptoms like floaters or sensitivity, but when you have diabetes, annual eye exams are important and I learned why first-hand: During that visit, the doctor found signs of diabetic retinopathy in my eyes. Specifically, he saw microaneurysms, which are essentially leaking blood vessels. I needed to see a specialist right away.

That specialist confirmed the diagnosis of DME in June 2015 and told me I’d need regular eye injections to stop the bleeding and to prevent new blood vessels from forming. Since I was a diabetic, I’d heard of DME, but the idea of a needle going into my eye freaked me out; I was worried about pain and infection. It was horrible at first because I needed them every four to six weeks. I really struggled and cried every time I had to have it done, and I would fall into a deep depression afterwards. It was one of the hardest times in my life.

I started to take anti-anxiety medicine before the appointments, and that helped. And now that I’ve been getting them for some time, the eye injections are more uncomfortable than anything else. You will be very numb, so you feel more of a pressure and very minimal pain during the procedure.

I believe that because I caught it in the early stages and started treatment when I needed to, my eyes do very well with these injections. I now get the injections every seven weeks (instead of every four to six weeks) to maintain the great vision quality I have.

At one point, in 2017, my eyesight started to get blurry, so my doctor tried using a laser to see how I would respond, but it didn’t do much to help. The laser cuts off leaking hemorrhages, but my edema is chronic, so it keeps coming back. I just do injections now, and they’ve become a regular part of my life, helping me keep my vision.

Having DME affects my life in every way. For example, work: I was in retail management before I was diagnosed. I wanted to change careers but I needed to search for a job that would enable me to have flexible hours because my eyes are so unpredictable. Sometimes I wake up and they’re blurry, and I will need an injection a week or two before my appointment. So, I went to Paul Mitchell and have been doing hair ever since.

Truthfully, I worry about my DME every day. I base my schedule around my injections. I make my own schedule, so I have all the flexibility I need. If I have an injection on a Friday, I will take that day off so I can rest afterward. I have an incredible doctor (it's very important to find someone you trust) but I still have anxiety with my appointments and they do take an emotional toll.

I’m do worry I will lose my vision (especially when I experience a little bit of blurriness), but my doctor tells me I won’t. He says it’s because I go to every appointment and he’s right: I’m religious about this. I don’t ever change them.

Despite my DME, my life is full. I’m a wife and I love my dogs. I love to exercise outside, I love to sing, I love music and I love to be with my family.

And, no matter how difficult these injections are, I’m grateful they exist. Without them I’d be blind. That’s why I tell people to always listen to your doctors and get the treatments. You’ll be okay. You’ll get through it because you have to.

Lambeth Hochwald
Meet Our Writer
Lambeth Hochwald

Lambeth Hochwald is a consumer lifestyle reporter covering health, fitness, marriage and family.