What is it?

An epiretinal membrane (also known as preretinal gliosis, preretinal fibrosis, cellophane maculopathy, or macular pucker) is a thin film of transparent tissue which grows on the surface of the retina. It can cause the macula, which normally lies flat and smooth against the back of the eyeball, to become wrinkled.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the problem. Most people with epiretinal membranes have no symptoms. However, some patients notice distortion (bending of straight lines) and blurred vision due to the epiretinal membrane.

What is the cause?

Most epiretinal membranes are idiopathic – meaning they develop for no known reason. However, the development of epiretinal membranes seems to be related to posterior vitreous detachment – the separation of the vitreous gel from the retina. This separation is a normal age-related occurrence, which usually takes place after the age of 60. Some epiretinal membranes develop after severe trauma, after retinal detachment, or with severe diabetic retinopathy.

What is the prognosis?

The vast majority of epiretinal membranes are mild and pose no serious threat to a person’s vision. A minority of epiretinal membranes progress in severity, causing worsening symptoms for the patient. Epiretinal membranes generally affect the central vision only and, therefore, would not cause total loss of vision resulting in complete blindness.

How is it diagnosed?

A complete eye examination, including dilation of the pupils, is the best way to diagnose an epiretinal membrane and stage the level of severity. Sometimes retinal photography and angiography and OCT scan are helpful tools to diagnose an epiretinal membrane and follow it for progression.

Is there a treatment?

Most epiretinal membranes do not require any treatment because the symptoms do not become severe enough to need treatment. A surgical operation called vitrectomy is available for those patients whose symptoms have progressed to a level which warrants intervention.