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What is an epiretinal membrane?

The retina is a thin layer of nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye and gives you the ability to see, very much like the film of a camera. The macula is a specialized area of the retina that is responsible for seeing fine details clearly in the centre of your vision. The macula allows you to perform tasks like driving, recognizing faces and reading small print. When you develop a thin membrane of scar tissue on the surface of the macula, it is called an epiretinal membrane. This epiretinal membrane pulls and distorts the fine vision area and can lead to progressive loss of vision and distortion of images.

How are epiretinal membranes treated?

In mild cases of epiretinal membrane when the vision is good, observation is the usual course of action. If epiretinal membranes cause progressive and significant loss of vision, or distortion of images, surgery is recommended to remove the membranes. This can be done under local anaesthesia with sedation or general anaesthesia.

A pars plana vitrectomy is performed, where the gel on the inside of the eye is removed and replaced with clear fluid. The thin membrane of scar tissue on the surface of the macula is then gently peeled from the retinal surface. This allows the retina to settle back into its natural position after surgery. Improvement is vision usually occurs gradually over a period of months after surgery. The exact amount of visual recovery can be unpredictable however.

Symptoms of an epiretinal membrane

  • Progressive distortion of images in the centre of your vision
  • Progressive loss of central vision

What causes an epiretinal membrane?

Epiretinal membranes develop when abnormal cells form scar tissue on the surface of the retina. Most commonly, the cause can not be found, but the most common secondary causes are:

  • Posterior vitreous detachment (Vitreous gel detaching from retina due to ageing)
  • Retinal vascular diseases
    • Diabetic retinopathy
    • Retinal vein occlusion
  • Inflammation
  • Trauma
  • Eye surgery
  • Retinal tears or detachment

“Vision is the true creative rhythm”

- Robert Delaunay