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Retinal detachment surgery (vitrectomy)

Vitrectomy is a surgical procedure used to repair retinal detachment. Your retina (the thin lining at the back of your eye) can detach if it begins to pull away from the blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients. Without prompt treatment, retinal detachment leads to blindness in the affected eye.

Description of treatment

During vitrectomy, the consultant uses delicate instruments to remove the vitreous jelly in the eye. They’ll leave a space inside the eye and insert a gas bubble. The gas bubble absorbs itself either over 10 to 12 days or six to eight weeks, depending on the type of gas used.

How does it work?

The gas bubble is inserted to help the retinal detachment heal in the correct place. The gas acts like a splint, keeping the retina in place while the hole or tear in the retina seals. Sealing happens in response to either freezing or laser treatment, which is done as part of the operation.

What can the patient expect?

The surgery can be performed under general anaesthetic, so you’re asleep for the entire procedure. Or it can be under local anaesthetic, which ‘freezes’ the area around your eye so you’re pain-free but awake. If you are having a general anaesthetic, you will need to follow your consultant’s instructions about fasting (not eating or drinking) before your operation.

After a vitrectomy you will generally be able to go home the same day as the operation or after an overnight stay if appropriate. With the gas in place, the vision in your eye will be very poor, a bit like having your eye open under water. Once the gas is absorbed, your vision should improve.

Risks of vitrectomy

Like any surgery, there are some risks with vitrectomy. If you have any questions or concerns about the procedure, your consultant will be happy to answer them.

The most common problems from this surgery are:

  • failure to repair the retina – another operation may be needed (between one and two operations in 10 fail)
  • infection (about one out of every 1,000 vitrectomies)
  • high pressure in the eye (about one out of every five to 10 vitrectomies)
  • cataract – you have a slightly increased risk of developing cataracts in the long term.

If there are any complications during your surgery, the following problems can occur. Your consultant will discuss these with you in more detail.

  • Bleeding in the eye
  • Glaucoma – increased pressure in the eye
  • Inflammation
  • Retinal re-detachment
  • Wound problems – infection (endophthalmitis)
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Distorted vision
  • Blurred vision

Consultants linked to this treatment

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