If dry eye disease is severe and doesn’t respond to medications, surgery or other procedures may be needed. One option includes amniotic membrane grafting.

Dry eye is a common condition where your eyes don’t get enough tears to stay adequately moist. This may be caused by a general lack of tears or difficulties with tear production or evaporation.

Treatment for dry eye depends on the severity, with artificial tears or prescription eye products being used first.

Amniotic membranes consist of tissues that are implanted directly over the surface of your eyes. These grafts may help treat and prevent damage caused by dry eye.

If you have severe dry eye that hasn’t responded to prior treatment, consider speaking with an eye doctor about amniotic membranes, including their possible benefits and risks, and whether this is a viable treatment option for you.

You can think of amniotic membranes as tissue-based bandages for your eyes. These allow healing to take place while also offering your eyes protection.

While amniotic membranes have been used by doctors for the last century to treat chronic wounds, this treatment method is relatively new in eye care.

In general, amniotic membranes can help heal tissue damage while also providing anti-inflammatory benefits. It may be used in severe cases of dry eye, where a chronic lack of tears has caused corneal damage (keratitis).

For dry eye treatment more specifically, amniotic membranes are used to:

  • help repair surface damage to your eyes
  • protect your eyes while on your eye
  • lower eye inflammation
  • protect from infections
  • help prevent scars that might otherwise cause vision difficulties

In one major 2018 study, titled the Dry Eye Amniotic Membrane study, researchers found that this treatment was helpful for most of the participants. The authors noted that 88% of the study participants experienced improved eye surface.

Amniotic membrane grafting is considered a noninvasive procedure, and few risks have been noted.

The 2018 study found that while 10% of participants needed to repeat their treatment, there were no adverse effects from amniotic membrane placement.

Possible risks to discuss with an eye doctor include discomfort, infections, or intolerance of the graft.

To perform an amniotic membrane graft for dry eye, a doctor will use tissues from a donor.

Amniotic membranes are derived from the placentas of fetuses who are delivered via elected cesarean birth. The tissue is then screened for possible infectious diseases and treated with antibiotics.

An eye doctor will consider one of the following two types of amniotic membranes:

  • Cryopreserved amniotic membrane: This type is kept frozen to help preserve the tissues before being brought to room temperature before your treatment. Cryopreserved versions are the most common types used and are inserted with a contact-lens-like ring.
  • Dehydrated amniotic membrane: While this type is kept at room temperature, it’s vacuum-sealed before storage and is rehydrated before use.

This is what you can expect from an amniotic membrane dry eye procedure:

  1. First, you’ll lie down while an eye doctor will place small devices over your eyelids to keep your eyes open.
  2. Next, the amniotic membrane graft is placed over the cornea and ocular surface of your eye. It’s placed sticky-side down to help it stay in place.
  3. Last, sutures or fibrin glue are used to keep the membrane in place. If using a dehydrated amniotic membrane, an eye doctor will place a bandage contact lens on top.

Little recovery time is needed for amniotic membrane grafting. The membranes dissolve in your eye within about a week. During this time, you may experience blurry vision. You may need to refrain from driving and other activities until your vision has been completely restored.

An eye doctor will also recommend that you avoid rubbing your eyes, as this can cause unintentional injuries.

In addition to speaking with an eye doctor about amniotic membrane treatment for dry eye, the following information may help you make an informed decision.

How long does amniotic membrane last on eyes?

After application, an amniotic membrane is dissolved into your eye within about a week. An eye doctor will check for the dissolution of the membrane and also determine whether you need a follow-up procedure in the future.

How much does amniotic membrane treatment cost?

The exact cost of amniotic membrane grafting varies based on the type you’re seeking, as well as where you live. It may be covered by private and government-based health insurance programs, but it’s important to check with a healthcare professional in advance.

Individual device costs may range between $300–$900 each. But according to a cost effectiveness study published in 2020, the total average cryopreserved amniotic membrane procedure for dry eye was $10,300.

The analysis also found that, when compared with topical immunosuppressants in a 1-year timeframe, amniotic membrane grafting was less expensive despite the higher initial price tag.

What does an amniotic membrane do for the eye?

Amniotic membranes are akin to bandages that help promote tissue healing when other treatments don’t work. If you have eye damage from dry eye or other eye health issues, amniotic membranes can provide a layer of protection to allow them to heal.

Thin-like contact lenses, these implants can also help heal and smooth the eye surface.

Amniotic membranes add a layer of protection to your eyes that may be damaged from a number of underlying causes. This includes severe cases of dry eye.

If you’ve been dealing with dry eye symptoms that aren’t improving with other treatments, or your eye doctor has detected damage in your cornea, you may consider discussing amniotic membranes as a possible treatment option.