What Is an Epiretinal Membrane?

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An epiretinal membrane (ERM) is a relatively common retinal problem in older patients. According to the American Society of Retina Specialists, 20% of patients over age 75 have evidence of an ERM.

What is an epiretinal membrane?

An epiretinal membrane is the name for “wrinkling of the retina.” The retina is the thin layer of nerves and visual cells that lines the inside back wall of the eye. An epiretinal membrane develops when certain protein cells settle on the retina and cling together, forming a clear layer on the retinal surface. Later, this clear membrane starts to contract and shrink.

Normal retinas have a smooth surface, but in people with an epiretinal membrane, the surface is irregular and bumpy. This causes distortion and bending of objects in their vision. They might say it looks like they are looking through wrinkled clear cellophane.

What causes it?

It is not known what causes an epiretinal membrane. They are more common in people with a previous eye surgery, severe eye trauma or medical problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, for the vast majority of people, there is no underlying reason. An epiretinal membrane is not caused by a lack of exercise, diet, medications, reading or sunlight. Typically an epiretinal membrane “just happens.”

What are the treatment options for an epiretinal membrane?

If you are diagnosed with an epiretinal membrane, it is very likely it will never get worse from the time of initial diagnosis. There is nothing you can do to make an epiretinal membrane better or worse.

For the small minority of people that have poor vision, surgery to remove an epiretinal membrane can be an option. The decision to perform surgery is based solely on the patient’s symptoms.

If the patient has only mild symptoms, there is no need for surgery. About 75% of patients that undergo surgery improve their vision by an average of two lines on the eye chart.

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