An epiretinal membrane is a condition where a very thin layer of scar tissue forms on the surface of the retina where the vision is sharpest (the macula). When this forms, it may contract and crumple up the macula leading to distortion and/or blurred vision. This condition is quite common and can affect up to 8% of the population in later years. In many cases, an epiretinal membrane is discovered by chance at a routine examination and vision may not be affected. However, it does occasionally get worse, causing distorted or blurred vision. Treatment for an epiretinal membrane is only warranted in these cases.
Epiretinal membrane removal
The only way to treat an epiretinal membrane is to remove it surgically. This is done by an operation called a vitrectomy, where specialized instruments are used to remove the jelly (vitreous) at the back of the eye, followed by removal of this membrane. In some cases, an air or gas bubble is left inside the eye. This disappears on its own in a few weeks. On average, this operation takes an hour, and is generally done under local anaesthetic.
What to expect after epiretinal membrane removal
Typically, the vision is more blurred immediately after the operation and can take months for it to improve. The aim of the surgery is to reduce distortion, and the operation is usually successful in doing so. Any improvement in sharpness or vision is less predictable. Even if vision does not improve, surgical removal of an epiretinal membrane can help in preventing further visual loss through worsening of the membrane.
Risks of Surgery
Any vitrectomy operation speeds up the development of cataract. 3 out of 4 people would require a cataract operation within the first three years of this surgery. Epiretinal membrane removal surgery carries a risk of 1 in 50 (2%) of worse vision and 1 in 50 (2%) of requiring further surgery (such as in the case of retinal detachment). High eye pressure can occur in 1 in 100, and may require long term use of eye drops, and very occasionally, glaucoma surgery. The risk of serious complications are in 1 in 1000 cases, where the eye can become completely blind due to a bleed during surgery or severe infection after surgery.
If you want to read more about epiretinal membranes and surgery, please refer to the links below.