Amniotic membranes are part of the newest treatment methods used to approach symptoms of moderate to severe dry eye disease, as well as many other ocular surface conditions. These complex medical devices are derived from ethically sourced amniotic tissue that not only provides the front of the eye with a protective and nourishing barrier, but also delivers regenerative and healing properties to damaged corneal tissue. While they have gained a lot of popularity in their role for treating severe ocular surface diseases, such as recurrent corneal erosions or chronic ocular surface infections, they can also play a significant role in the treatment and management of dry eye disease.
The Basics of Amniotic Membranes
Amniotic membranes are ocular grafts that are derived from the innermost layer of the placenta. This tissue is rich in stem cells, which can provide a damaged ocular surface with important regenerative properties. They are ethically sourced, and only donors that meet very strict health standards are able to donate tissue that can be repurposed for an amniotic membrane. When this membrane tissue is used on the eye, it is formulated into a large diameter graft that is secured by a round flexible plastic ring. During treatment with an amniotic membrane, this plastic ring is inserted between the eyelids, so the nutrient-rich tissue rests directly on the front surface of the eye. Within a few days, the graft beings to dissolve and the regenerative properties of the stem-cell-abundant tissue is absorbed within the ocular surface so tissue healing can begin to occur. After a few days, the membrane and plastic ring are removed. However, the healing properties do not stop there. Amniotic membranes typically allow for regeneration of damaged tissue long after the actual graft is removed.
The process of applying and removing an amniotic membrane is quick and pain free. It is an in-office procedure done by an eye care professional within minutes. Your doctor will insert a numbing drop to prevent any discomfort, then gently insert the flexible plastic ring under the eyelids of the eye receiving treatment. The eyelids are then typically taped shut for a short period of time to keep the graft in place. The membrane is not painful during the treatment time, and within a matter of days (usually 3-10 days, depending on severity of disease), the graft and the plastic ring are quickly and easily removed by your doctor. The simple procedure carries very little risks, but allows for many healing benefits.
Uses for Amniotic Membranes
Amniotic membranes can be used in the treatment and management of many ocular surface diseases. For patients who experience painful recurrent corneal erosions, amniotic membranes may be a method of not only reducing symptoms of a current episode, but also providing the eye with healing properties to avoid another incident. They can be used in cases of long-term ocular inflammation in which the front surface of the eye is negatively affected. They may also be useful in treating moderate to severe dry eye disease, in which traditional treatment methods have proven to be ineffective. These powerful tissues have proved to be widely useful in promoting a healthy ocular surface.