What is a Macular Pucker?
The macula is the center of your retina. It is responsible for your straight ahead vision. While reading the print on this page, you are using your macula. The cornea and lens in the front of your eye focus the image of these words onto your macula. The macula converts the light from the image on this page into a neurological signal that is processed by your brain. When an extra layer of tissue forms on the retinal surface and then contracts to distort the central retina, we call it a macular pucker. A macular pucker is sometimes called an epiretinal membrane, cellophane maculopathy, a wrinkle, preretinal fibrosis or pseudomacular hole. Macular puckers are present in about 10% of people over the age of 50. They usually caused by a layer of vitreous--the gel that fills the eye--condensing on the surface of the retina and changing into a membrane. They look like a piece of scotch tape. Some macular puckers contract and pull the macula enough to cause distortion in the central vision. When this happens, patients can consider vitrectomy for macular pucker.
What are the symptoms of macular pucker?
The most common symptoms of macular pucker are distortion and vision loss. In is important to realize that other, more serious and more acute disorders can also cause distortion. If you experience new distortion in your vision, DO NOT ASSUME YOU HAVE A MACULAR PUCKER. You may have something more serious. You should consult a physician as soon as possible (less than a week) if you have new onset distortion and vision loss in either eye. Sometimes when one eye has a serious vision problem the other eye will take over and you may not notice the problem. Therefore, it is important to check your eyes separately every day to make sure that each eye is seeing well.
What is a macular pucker evaluation?
The diagnosis of a macular pucker is established by an eye examination and confirmed with ancillary testing. A dilated examination of the macula using a silt lamp (microscope) can usually establish the diagnosis of a macular pucker. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a useful tool for assessing the microstructure of the macula. A low energy laser is swept across the macula and a computer uses the reflected light to reconstruct the layers of the retina. An OCT scan will also show a macular pucker and can establish how the macular pucker is distorting the macular structure. Fluorescein angiography can show distortion of vessels in an eye with a macular pucker. It is also sometimes used to eliminate the possibility of other diagnoses, like wet age-related macular degeneration and retinal vein occlusion.
What is the Natural history of macular pucker?
Macular puckers are usually stable. They generally form and affect vision over a time period of about 3 months and then rarely change. One study followed 84 patients with macular pucker for a year, half with cataract surgery and half without, and there was virtually no change in any of the patients’ macular puckers. Visual acuity and retinal thickness was minimally worse at one year in some patients.(Eye. 23(4):774-9, 2009)
A population-based study of people living in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia, was performed following all people living in that area for common eye diseases. This study identified, by photography, 2 types of macular pucker – one type that caused retinal folds (premacular fibrosis) and one type that did not cause retinal folds (cellophane maculopathy). At the studies inception, 56 participants (62 eyes) had premacular fibrosis. The lesions progressed in 16.1% of eyes and regressed in 25.8% of eyes. Of the 142 participants (183 eyes) with cellophane maculopathy, the area of involvement decreased in 12.6% of eyes and disappeared in 13% of eyes.(Ophthalmology 2003;110:34–40)
A clinic based study showed that 15% of patients with macular pucker have visual acuity of worse than 20/70. The same study showed no further loss of vision after enrollment in 87% of 47 eyes followed without surgery for 2 to 4 years.(Ann Ophthalmol. 1982;14:876-8)
Several studies have shown that about 25% of people with macular pucker in one eye will develop a macular pucker in the fellow eye.
What are the options?
If you have been diagnosed with a macular pucker you can live with it, wait, have surgery, or if applicable, seek treatment of other disease affecting your vision.
Live with it: Macular puckers are not uncommon. If your vision is not affected by the macular pucker, you do not need surgery. Macular puckers rarely progress. If your macular pucker does progress, you can opt to have it operated on when that happens. If your vision is minimally affected by the macular pucker, you have to weight the risks and benefits of surgery. These are discussed further in the surgery section of this site (see link below). Everyone has different visual needs. There are people who cannot work if there vision is minimally compromised and there are people who get along fine with relatively poor vision. You need to decide what is right for you.
Wait: Since macular pucker surgery is successful at improving vision within the first few years of onset of the macular pucker, there is no harm waiting a little while to decide. About 5% of macular puckers improve with time, about 80% stay the same, and about 15% worsen. Usually if they worsen, they do so within the first few months of onset. So waiting a few months is rarely dangerous. Comparing serial optical coherence tomography scans over time can help you gauge if your macular pucker is changing.
Have Surgery: If you are bothered by your vision and want to have surgery for the macular pucker, there is no benefit to waiting. Although it is OK to wait to have surgery, it is not necessary. You are probably a little better off having surgery sooner than later if you are sure that is what you want. The benefit of surgery probably does gradually decline over time while the risk stays the same. There is no way to tell if your macula has been permanently damaged by the macular pucker. Eighty percent of people improve with surgery, 15% don’t change and about 5% worsen. If your vision is affected to the point where your eye is not seeing well and your visual function is poor, then surgery is a reasonable option.
Seek treatment of other diseases affecting your vision: Many macular pucker patients have other eye diseases, like cataract, macular edema, and retinal vein occlusion. If you have a concomitant treatable eye disorder, treatment of that disorder might improve your vision enough that your visual function is satisfactory to you and you do not need the macular pucker removed. An added benefit of cataract surgery prior to macular pucker surgery is that it makes the macular pucker surgery technically a little easier and probably safer.
What is Vitrectomy for Macular Pucker
Vitrectomy for macular pucker improves the vision in patients 80% of the time about half way to normal. Since, the surgery, like any surgery, has some risks, most surgeons only recommend surgery for patients with significant visual symptoms. If a person with a macular pucker is having trouble reading, driving, or doing whatever they want to do visually surgery can be helpful. Usually this occurs when the visual acuity drops to 20/70 or less. Some patients with visual acuity between 20/40 and 20/70 have symptoms severe enough to warrant surgery. Usually when the vision is better than 20/30 surgery is not recommended because the risk of surgery can outweigh the potential benefits. Without intervention, only about 10 to 25 percent of eyes with macular pucker suffer progressing visual acuity loss. Macular pucker surgery is never an emergency. Macular puckers can be removed within a few years on onset with good visual results. In general the sooner a macular pucker is removed, the more likely the vision will improve. Still there is no harm waiting a few months before considering the operation. A small number, about 5 percent, of macular puckers will spontaneously peel and vision will improve. Most macular puckers are stable.
Video Macular Pucker Surgery
65 year old woman with 20/50 vision for about a year. Vision improved to 20/25 1 week after surgery.
Video Macular Pucker Surgery
This 65 year old woman has had decreasing vision for 6 months from a macular pucker. The visual acuity is 20/200. The patient had cataract surgery 6 months ago and the vision is still hazy and distorted from the macular pucker. Vision improved to 20/30 6 months after surgery.
Video Macular Pucker Surgery
This 60 year old man with 20/400 macular pucker and vision loss over about a year. Vision was 20/80 at 1 month follow-up visit. High definition video - very thick macular pucker (epiretinal membrane).
Recommended Macular Pucker Reading
Below are links to other helpful sites to read about macular pucker.
Dr. Pautler's Macular Pucker Blog