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Injections to Treat Diabetic Retinopathy and Diabetic Macular Edema

If you have diabetic macular edema (DME) or an advanced case of diabetic retinopathy, your doctor may use injections as part of your treatment plan. You may need other treatments, like laser treatments or surgery, in addition to injections.

When you get injections in your eye, your eye doctor will: 

  • Put numbing medicine on your eye to make you more comfortable during the injection 
  • Clean your eye to help prevent infections 
  • Put the medicine in your eye with a very small needle 

After the treatment, you may need to use antibiotic eye drops to keep your eyes from getting an infection. The treatment doesn’t change your vision right away. Most people can go back to their normal activities right after the treatment. 

Anti-VEGF drugs

If you have diabetic retinopathy or DME, a protein called VEGF increases problems like leaking blood vessels and swelling in the macula (a part of the retina). Medicines called anti-VEGF drugs block this protein and help improve vision. 

Common anti-VEGF drugs include: 

  • Avastin (bevacizumab) 
  • Lucentis (ranibizumab) 
  • Eylea (afilibercept) 

Most people who get anti-VEGF injections will need injections once a month for at least the first 3 months. Over time, you may need injections less often. Some people can eventually stop getting the injections, but others need to keep getting injections to protect their vision. 


DME causes swelling in the macula. Medicines called corticosteroids can help reduce this swelling and make your vision clearer.  

You can get corticosteroids as eye drops or injections, or your doctor can put a special device called an implant in your eye. The implant gives you regular small doses of the medicine over time. People who get the implant may be able to stop getting monthly injections. 

Common corticosteroid implants include: 

  • Ozurdex (dexamethasone) for short-term use 
  • Iluvien (fluocinolone acetonide) for long-term use 

Corticosteroids can increase your risk for cataracts and glaucoma. If you get corticosteroid injections for DME, it’s important to get regular eye exams to check for signs of these problems. 

Last updated: May 29, 2019