Epiretinal membrane is an abnormal sheet of avascular fibrocellular tissue that develops on the inner surface of the retina. Epiretinal membrane can cause impairment of sight as a consequence of progressive distortion of retinal architecture.
To determine the effects of surgery compared to no intervention for epiretinal membrane.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE Ovid, Embase Ovid, ISRCTN registry, US National Institutes of Health Ongoing Trials Register ClinicalTrials.gov, and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP). There were no restrictions to language or year of publication. The databases were last searched on 20 May 2020.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing surgical removal of idiopathic epiretinal membrane compared to placebo, no treatment or sham treatment. Paired or within-person studies were included, as well as those where both eyes of a single participant were treated.
We used standard methods expected by Cochrane, and assessed certainty using the GRADE system. We considered the following five outcome measures: mean change in best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) in the study eye between baseline (before randomisation), 6 months and 12 months later; proportion of people with a gain of 0.3 logMAR or more of visual acuity in the study eye as measured by a logMAR chart at a starting distance of 4 m at 6 months and 12 months after randomisation; proportion of people with a loss of 0.3 logMAR or more of visual acuity in the study eye as measured by a logMAR chart at a starting distance of 4 m at 6 months and 12 months after randomisation; mean quality of life score at 6 months and 12 months following surgery, measured using a validated questionnaire; and any harm identified during follow-up.
We included one study in the review. This was a RCT including 53 eyes of 53 participants with mild symptomatic epiretinal membrane and BCVA of 65 or more Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study (ETDRS) letters. Participants were randomly allocated to immediate surgery or to watchful waiting with deferred surgery if indicated by evidence of disease progression. The study was limited by imprecision owing to the small number of participants and was at some risk of bias owing to inconsistencies in the time points for outcome assessment and in the management of lens opacity. At 12 months, the visual acuity in the immediate surgery group was higher by a mean of 2.1 (95% confidence interval (CI) -2.0 to 6.2 ETDRS letters; 53 participants; low-certainty evidence) than the watchful waiting/deferred surgery group. The evidence of the effect of immediate surgery on gains of 0.3 logMAR or more of visual acuity is very uncertain (risk ratio (RR) 0.55, 95% CI 0.06 to 4.93; 53 participants; very low-certainty evidence). At 12 months, no participant in either group sustained a loss of 0.3 logMAR or more of visual acuity (53 participants; low-certainty evidence). The included study did not measure quality of life. At 12 months, no serious adverse event was identified in any participant. One participant developed chronic minimal cystoid macular oedema following immediate surgery (53 participants; low-certainty evidence).
We found no RCT that directly investigated the effect of surgery compared to no intervention. For severe disabling epiretinal membrane, the lack of a RCT comparing surgery to no intervention may reflect evidence from non-randomised studies in favour of surgery; a RCT may be considered unnecessary and ethically unacceptable because a superior effect of surgery is widely accepted. For mild symptomatic epiretinal membrane, however, the value of surgery is uncertain. Low-certainty evidence from this review suggests that watchful waiting or deferred surgery may offer outcomes as favourable as immediate surgery. However, this finding needs to be confirmed in further RCTs with appropriate statistical power, masking of treatment allocation, consistent management of cataract, and measurement of outcomes including patient-reported quality of life over a more extended time frame.

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