Epiretinal Membrane: It Can Affect Your Sight
The retina is the inner lining of the eyeball. This layer contains your vision machinery such as photoreceptors. An epiretinal membrane is a film that forms on top of the retina. It can affect your vision and make it harder to read and drive.
What Causes It?
This is most often an aging change of the eye. The average age at diagnosis is 65. Men and women are equally affected. There is no way to prevent an epiretinal membrane due to aging from forming. Epiretinal membranes can occur in both eyes 20% of the time.
Other eye conditions can predispose a person to developing an epiretinal membrane. The most common is posterior vitreous detachment, an aging change of the jelly which fills the eye.
How Does It Affect Vision?
Most patients will not be affected by their epiretinal membranes. Sometimes membranes can worsen with age and then affect vision by pulling and wrinkling the retina. Patients may have distorted vision. Straight lines like letters on a page may look wavy. In severe cases, vision can be very blurry. Other symptoms are double vision, light sensitivity or images looking larger or smaller than they actually are. Activities such as reading and driving may be more difficult.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Eye doctors can diagnose membranes with an eye exam and pictures. Membranes are often found incidentally in patients without symptoms. Sometimes the distortion and blurriness from an epiretinal membrane in one eye is compensated by the other “good” eye, so closing one eye then the other while looking at any straight line may reveal waviness from a membrane. If you notice this, you should see an eye doctor.
What Can I Do If I Have It?
After diagnosing an epiretinal membrane, your eye doctor should refer you to a retina specialist for further evaluation and management.
Epiretinal membranes can be observed if the patient has no symptoms or is not bothered by any distortion or blurriness. Treatment is recommended for those patients whose vision is worse to the point where it is difficult to perform activities such as reading and driving.
A 30-minute outpatient surgical procedure called vitrectomy is the only proven treatment for an epiretinal membrane. The retina surgeon enters the eye with microscopic instruments and peels the epiretinal membrane. This surgery has a good success rate, and most patients experience improved vision and decreased symptoms afterward.