An epiretinal membrane is a thin film of transparent tissue that develops in front of the retina. Epiretinal membranes are very common and may be present in up to 1 in 12 people over the age of 60. In most cases no cause can be found to explain their apparition. Less commonly they are due to blocked retinal vessels, internal eye inflammation, or retinal breaks or injury.
In some people, the membrane may shrink distorting the surface of the retina and giving rise to localised swelling. These patients may complain of distorted, blurred vision. Most epiretinal membranes are found by chance during a routine eye check up and require no intervention.
Sometimes the degree of distortion caused by the membrane is such that it interferes with daily tasks. Occasionally, membranes can also worsen the sharpness of vision enough to merit surgery. However, if an epiretinal membrane is not causing vision problems, there is no need for treatment.
The treatment for troublesome epiretinal membranes is a vitrectomy. This minimally invasive operation allows the surgeon to reach the membrane and remove it with diminutive tweezers. Loosening the pull on the retina allows for a significant improvement in the distortion of vision in about 9 out of 10 people. Additionally, 7 out of 10 people note that the sharpness of their vision improves on the chart used to measure it. It usually takes several months to appreciate the full benefit of the operation. This operation can be done at the same time as cataract surgery.