Purpose: The purpose of the study is to determine the prevalence and associations of epiretinal membranes in a defined older Australian population and to assess their influence on visual acuity.
Methods: Three thousand six hundred fifty-four persons 49 years of age or older, representing 88% of permanent residents from an area west of Sydney, underwent a detailed eye examination, including stereo retinal photography. Epiretinal membranes were diagnosed clinically and from photographic grading.
Results: Signs of epiretinal membranes were found in 243 participants (7%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 6.1, 7.6), bilateral in 31%. The prevalence was 1.9% in persons younger than 60 years of age, 7.2% in persons 60 to 69 years of age, 11.6% in persons 70 to 79 years of age, and 9.3% in persons 80 years of age and older, with slightly higher rates in women. Two stages were identified: an early form without retinal folds, termed "cellophane macular reflex" present in 4.8%, and a later stage with retinal folds, termed "preretinal macular fibrosis" (PMF), found in 2.2% of the population. Preretinal macular fibrosis, but not cellophane macular reflex, had a small, significant effect on visual acuity. Preretinal macular fibrosis was significantly associated with diabetes, after age-gender adjustment, in subjects without signs of diabetic retinopathy (odds ratio, 3.2; 95% CI, 1.4, 7.2). Preretinal macular fibrosis also was associated with increased fasting plasma glucose (odds ratio, 1.2; 95% CI, 1.1, 1.3). Epiretinal membranes were found in 16.8% of persons who had undergone cataract surgery in one or both eyes (including PMF in 3.7%), in 16.1% of retinal vein occlusion cases (PMF in 12.5%), both significantly higher rates than in subjects without these conditions (P < 0.0001), and in 11% of persons with diabetic retinopathy (PMF in 3.6%), not significantly higher (P = 0.17).
Conclusions: This study has documented the frequency and mild effect on vision of epiretinal membranes in an older population. Diabetes was associated significantly with idiopathic cases, whereas well-known associations with past cataract surgery and retinal disease were confirmed.