One of the newest therapeutic devices to become available for the treatment of eye diseases is an amniotic membrane. An amniotic membrane is an ethically obtained placental tissue, rich in stem cells. The cells within an amniotic membrane have healing and regenerative properties, and in recent years have been used in the treatment of diseases affecting the front surface of the eye, particularly diseases of the cornea or the conjunctiva. Several studies have shown that amniotic membranes are highly effective in the rejuvenation of ocular tissue and the treatment of particularly uncomfortable surface diseases. By reducing inflammation, providing a protective barrier to the ocular surface, and promoting the regeneration of tissue, amniotic membranes has proven to be a viable treatment option for eye diseases ranging from traumatic injuries to severe dry eye disease.
What Is an Amniotic Membrane?
An amniotic membrane is essentially a temporary corneal graft. The amniotic tissue, secured in a soft and flexible ring, is placed over the surface of the eye. The eye is typically taped shut for a number of days to prevent the membrane from becoming dislodged. Slowly, the front surface of the eye begins to absorb the regenerative properties of the amniotic tissue. The stem cells from the membrane can promote regrowth of corneal tissue and help repair a damaged ocular surface. Within a week or so, the membrane has completely absorbed or dissolved, and the ring that was holding it in place can be removed by an eye care professional. The therapeutic properties of an amniotic membrane last beyond the week it spends on the front surface of the eye; by helping to replenish the stem cells of the cornea, amniotic membranes are useful as a sustainable treatment options for conditions affecting the front of the eye.
Treatment Uses of Amniotic Membranes
Some systemic or autoimmune diseases can wreak havoc on the front surface of the eye. These conditions tend to be more difficult to treat with traditional eye drops or medications, and require extensive repair of the cornea. In such cases, amniotic membranes have proved successful. Amniotic membranes can also be used in cases of dry eye disease where rapid worsening has occurred, or cases which are not responding to traditional treatment methods. Amniotic membranes can be used not only to prevent symptoms, but also to promote a future of better eye health by providing the corneal surface with the increased likelihood of self-repair.
What to Expect with an Amniotic Membrane
If you and your doctor decide to treat the front surface of an eye with an amniotic membrane, there is very little you need to worry about. The in-office procedure is quick and painless. A temporary numbing drop will be placed in your eye as the membrane is secured. Once the graft is on your eye, you may be aware of the flexible ring holding it in place, but it should not cause you any discomfort. While it may temporarily cause mild blurry vision as it is dissolving, an amniotic membrane has no lasting side effects, and is a safe treatment approach for dry eye disease and beyond.