Epiretinal membranes, also known as epimacular membranes or macular puckers, are tissue that forms on the macula, the part of the retina that is responsible for high-acuity vision as well as central vision. Your macula makes it possible for you to see fine detail, but if an epiretinal membrane develops, that fine detail may be lost. Here are four things you need to know about epiretinal membranes.
What are the symptoms of epiretinal membranes?
If you have an epiretinal membrane, you may notice that your vision is blurred and it's harder for you to do things that require seeing fine detail such as reading or driving. You may notice changes in your central vision like distorted images, cloudy areas, or blind spots. If you notice any of these changes, see your optometrist right away.
How do epiretinal membranes form?
Epiretinal membranes are made of deposits of collagen cells. The collagen cells multiply, forming a layer of tissue, and lead to wrinkling or puckering of the macula. Researchers have many theories as to why these collagen cells develop.
One theory is that if the vitreous (filling of your eye) detaches, it leads to breaks in the retina and allows retinal cells to become liberated and start growing in new locations. Another theory is that inflammation inside the eye spurs the growth of collagen cells. However, epiretinal membranes can also form in the absence of any other eye problems, and researchers don't know why this happens.
How are they treated?
Epiretinal membranes are treated surgically with a membrane peel procedure. Before this procedure can be performed, you'll undergo a vitrectomy. A vitrectomy involves removing the vitreous from inside your eye; this allows the surgeon to access the epiretinal membrane. Once the membrane can be accessed, it will be gently peeled off of the retina with very small forceps.
Like other eye surgeries, this procedure is typically performed under local anesthesia. This means that you'll be awake and aware of what's going on, but you won't feel any pain. If you're very anxious, ask if you can get general anesthesia and sleep through your procedure instead.
How common are epiretinal membranes?
Epiretinal membranes are fairly common. Studies have shown that 7% of the general population has them. Postmortem studies have shown that they are more common among older people. About 2% of 50-year-olds have epiretinal membranes while as many as 20% of 75-year-olds do.
If you think you may have an epiretinal membrane, see an optometrist like Dr. Diane Trevis right away.