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Learning About Retinal Detachment Surgery

Detached retina

What is retinal detachment surgery?

A retinal detachment usually needs to be repaired quickly. You may not have much time to think about it.

The retina is a thin nerve membrane that lines the back of the eye. You can't see without it. Detachment means the retina has moved out of its normal place against the back of the eye.

Detachment can lead to severe vision loss or blindness. Prompt treatment can restore good vision.

How are the surgeries done?

Surgery is the only way to reattach the retina. There are many ways to do the surgery. They include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy. Your doctor injects a gas bubble into the middle of the eyeball. The gas bubble floats to the detached area and presses lightly against the detached retina. This flattens the retina against the wall of the eye. The retina reattaches.
  • Scleral buckling. Your doctor places a piece of silicone sponge, rubber, or semi-hard plastic on the outer layer of your eye and sews it in place. This relieves the force that is pulling and detaching the retina. The doctor may also use a gas bubble to flatten the retina against the wall of the eye.
  • Vitrectomy. Your doctor inserts small surgical tools into the eye. Then the doctor cuts the vitreous gel and suctions it out. (Vitreous gel fills the large space in the middle of the eye.) At the end of the surgery, silicone oil or a gas bubble is injected into the eye. This keeps the retina in place.

If a tear in the retina caused the detachment, your doctor may fix it during your surgery. This can be done in two ways. The doctor may use:

  • A laser beam that burns around the tear. The burn forms scars that close the tear. This is called laser photocoagulation.
  • A probe that freezes around the tear to fix it. This is called cryopexy.

What can you expect after surgery?

You may have some pain in your eye and your vision may be blurry for a few days after the surgery. Your eye may be swollen, red, or tender for several weeks. You may have to wear a patch or shield over the eye for a day or more.

Your eye doctor may put drops in your eye that prevent infection and keep the pupil from opening wide or closing.

Gas and silicone

If your doctor used a gas bubble, you'll have to keep your head in a certain position for a few days or longer after the surgery. Your doctor will give you special instructions about this.

If silicone oil is used during vitrectomy, you'll need a second procedure to remove the oil after the eye has healed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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