What is an epiretinal membrane?

An epiretinal membrane, also sometimes called a macular pucker, is a development of a very thin, clear layer of tissue (a membrane) that forms over the macula (the small area in the centre of your retina). They’re quite common and usually develop as you age.

What are the symptoms of an epiretinal membrane?

As the membrane that develops is clear, many people don’t tend to notice any symptoms or changes to their vision. Sometimes, over time the membrane can become thicker which impacts your central vision – this is when people start to notice distorted or blurred vision.

What causes an epiretinal membrane?

The most common cause of epiretinal membrane is due to a natural, age-related change in the vitreous humour (the transparent gel-like fluid between the lens and the retina). After the age of 50, this jelly substance starts to change and gradually pulls away from the retina. As this happens, cells can be released as part of the eye’s healing process which multiply and form a membrane over the macula. It can form after retinal tears or surgery for a detached retina.

Usually this happens very slowly and it stops growing after a while. But when the cells continue to multiply and the membrane contracts, it can lead to visual problems.

How is it diagnosed?

An epiretinal membrane is usually picked up by an optometrist during your eye exam. An OCT scan (which many opticians offer) can help to detect early signs of epiretinal membrane. If your vision is affected by it, your optometrist will refer you on to specialists like us to see if you might benefit from surgery.

How do I get referred?

Find out how

What treatment is available for an epiretinal membrane?

Epiretinal membranes can be treated with a type of surgery known as vitrectomy. Vitrectomy is a procedure that treats eye conditions related to the retina, macula and vitreous humour.

Who might need vitrectomy surgery?

Surgery is usually recommended when you find that the distortion or blurring makes it difficult to see properly and carry out your normal daily activities. The surgery removes the transparent jelly substance that fills that back of your eye (call the vitreous humour) and the membrane that has developed. It’s a relatively straightforward procedure that usually takes between 30-40 minutes.

What are the benefits of vitrectomy surgery?

Having this type of surgery usually helps to improve any distorted vision caused by an epiretinal membrane. Lots of people also find that sharpness of their vision also improves.

What happens during vitrectomy surgery?

Before

Before your procedure, your consultant will fully assess your eye health. Some people will have cataract surgery at the same time (because it’s common for cataracts to develop after vitrectomy), in which case you’ll also have what’s called a biometry test to make sure your replacement lens is the right one for you. Your consultant will go through all the details of your procedure and can answer any questions you might have.

During

Vitrectomy surgery is a relatively straightforward procedure that normally takes between 30-40 minutes. Most vitrectomy operations are performed under a local anaesthetic, either by eye drops or anaesthetic around the eye. So don’t worry, there won’t be any needles. You might just see a bright light and some movement, but you won’t be able to feel a thing. We know this can be a bit unnerving, but our theatre teams will be there to make sure you’re feeling completely comfortable the whole way through. Your consultant will talk you through everything they’re doing.

After

As the procedure is carried out with local anaesthetic, you’ll be able to go home the same day. You’ll need to use eye drops for about 3-4 weeks and come back and see us for a follow-up appointment 7-10 days after surgery, and another one about a month later.

You won’t be able to drive home afterwards so make sure you have someone to take you home. We also recommend having someone who you can call for about 24 hours after your procedure, in case you need a bit of help once you get home.

We’ll arrange all the necessary follow-up appointments with your consultant so they can make sure your recovery is going well or complete and your vision is the best it can be.

What is the recovery process after epiretinal membrane surgery?

Your consultant will give you all the information you need about recovery before you go home, but they’ll generally advise you to:

  • Plan to take things easy for a few days

  • Bathe and shower normally, but try to avoid getting anything in your eye

  • Avoid swimming until you’ve finished using your drops.

Don’t worry if your eye looks red and feel a bit gritty after your surgery, this is quite normal and can last for a couple of weeks. 

It can take a few weeks for your vision to improve after surgery. You might continue to notice more improvement up to six months or a year after surgery, depending on how much your vision was affected by the epiretinal membrane – your consultant will let you know what to expect for your recovery.

How successful is epiretinal membrane surgery?

For the majority of people (about 70-80%), vision is improved after vitrectomy for an epiretinal membrane. The distortion effect also improves but might not go away completely. In some cases, the membrane that has formed might have caused damage to the macula, which means vision might not be able to be improved.

What are the possible complications?

Although the vast majority of patients won’t experience any complications, as with all surgery there are some risks of complications. Our team will discuss these with you in detail at your appointment and will make sure you’re happy to go ahead with treatment.

How much does vitrectomy surgery cost?

Private vitrectomy surgery starts from £5,995 per eye and combined vitrectomy and cataract surgery starts from £6,995 per eye. That includes all your pre- and post-operative appointments, as well as your medication.

If you have any questions about available treatments or you’d like to book an appointment with a full assessment of your condition, get in touch with us.

FAQs

Where can I get vitrectomy surgery near me?

You can find your nearest Newmedica clinic that provides vitreoretinal surgery here.

How do I get referred?

Private patients can just get in touch with us directly. But if you’re using private medical insurance, you might need some more information to make your claim. You can find all the details on our private referral page.

Patient stories

Find your nearest clinic

Barlborough

Unit 1B and 1C Midland Place, Barlborough Links, Chesterfield, S43 4F

NHS Private
Bristol Aztec West

Building 720, Waterside Drive, Aztec West, Almondsbury, Bristol, BS32 4UD

NHS (unavailable) Private
Gloucester Aspen

Aspen Medical Centre, Horton Road, Gloucester, GL1 3PX

NHS Private
Gloucester Brighouse

19D Brighouse Court, Barnwood, Gloucester, GL4 3RT

NHS Private
Middlesbrough

29-30 Market Place, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, TS3 6HR

NHS (unavailable) Private
Swindon

Swindon NHS Health Centre, 1 Islington Street, Swindon, SN1 2DQ

NHS Private

Getting referred to Newmedica

If you think you have an eye condition, you should see your optician or GP for a detailed assessment. They’ll go through all the options available and tell you where can have your treatment.

The referral process will differ slightly depending on whether you want to be an NHS or private patient. You’ll find all the information you need on our NHS and private patient pages.

Are you a health care professional?
Find out how to refer a patient.

NHS patients

Learn more about our NHS services
and how you can be referred.

Read more

Private patients

Find details about our private
options and how to get started.

Read more

Self-referring? Call 0800 4096 792