Symptoms and Causes of Epiretinal Membrane

Epiretinal membranes (ERMs) are thin, transparent layers of fibrous tissues that form on the surface of the retina. When this happens, it affects the macula and leads to blurred or distorted vision. ERMs typically happen to people over the age of 50, and up to 20 percent of people have them in both eyes.

In this article, we’re going to explore in greater detail the symptoms and causes of epiretinal membranes. If you suspect that you have an ERM in one or both eyes, schedule an exam with a retinal specialist like Empire Retina Consultants.

What is an Epiretinal Membrane?

An epiretinal membrane is a delicate tissue-like scar that forms on top of the retina. When it forms over the macula, vision becomes distorted. Most ERMs are mild and have little or no effect on vision, which means they don’t require treatment. But if the fibrous tissues do form over the retina, you’ll likely need surgery to remove the ERM.

What are the Symptoms?

The majority of ERMs are diagnosed during a routine vision exam. Most types of ERM do not cause vision changes, so people generally don’t know they have one until they meet with their doctor. However, ERMs can get worse over time, leading to blurred or distorted vision.

Here are some of the symptoms you’ll want to keep a lookout for. Even if they are not due to an epiretinal membrane, they do signal that something is wrong.

  • Loss of central vision
  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Double vision
  • Problems reading or recognizing faces
  • Straight lines that appear wavy

What Causes ERMs to Form?

In most cases, epiretinal membranes happen as part of the normal aging process. This is why they are most likely to occur in people older than 50. According to The American Society of Retinal Specialists (ASRS), at least 2 percent of people over 50 years old and 20 percent of people over 75 years old have ERMs.

That being said, there are some risk factors that can raise the chances of developing an ERM such as:

  • Posterior vitreous detachment
  • Retinal tear or detachment
  • Retinal vascular diseases
  • Eye injuries
  • Eye surgeries
  • Existing ERM

How are ERMs Treated?

Most ERMs do not require treatment. As long as they aren’t interfering with your vision, and you’re seeing your ophthalmologist for routine eye exams, you can live with an ERM. But if that changes and your ERM gets worse or causes vision changes, then you will need surgery. There are no non-surgical treatments.

About 15 percent of ERMs require surgery. The surgery of choice is a vitrectomy procedure, which is very effective at correcting an ERM. This procedure is typically done on an outpatient basis with general anesthesia. There are some risks to vitrectomy surgery, so be sure to discuss these with your eye doctor and choose a qualified surgeon.