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Retinal detachment repair

Definition

Retinal detachment repair is eye surgery to place a detached retina back into its normal position.

A detached retina means the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye has separated from its supporting layers.

Alternative Names

Scleral buckling; Vitrectomy; Pneumatic retinopexy; Laser retinopexy

Description

Most detachment repair operations are urgent. A detached retina lacks oxygen, which causes cells in the area to die. This can lead to blindness.

If holes in the retina are found before a detachment occurs, an opthalmologist can close the holes using a laser. This is usually done in the doctor's office.

If the retina has just started to separate, a procedure called pneumatic retinopexy may be done to repair it. Pneumatic retinopexy (gas bubble placement) is also usually an office procedure. The health care provider injects a bubble of gas into your eye. You will be positioned so the gas floats up against the hole in the retina and pushes it back into place. The surgeon will use a laser to permanently seal the hole.

More severe detachments require more advanced surgery. The following procedures are done in a hospital or outpatient surgery center:

  • The scleral buckle method bends the wall of the eye inward so that it meets the hole in the retina. Scleral buckling can be done under local or general anesthesia.
  • The vitrectomy procedure uses very small instruments inside the eye to pull the retina forward. Most vitrectomies are done under local anesthesia.

For some complex detachments, both procedures may be done during the same operation.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

Retinal detachments do not improve without treatment. Repair is necessary to prevent permanent vision loss.

The urgency of the surgery depends on the location of the detachment. If the detachment has not affected the central vision area (the macula), surgery should be done quickly, usually the same day. This is necessary to prevent further detachment of the retina.

If the macula detaches, the surgery can still be done, but the vision result will not be as good. If the macula has already detached, there is less urgency. Surgeons can wait a week to 10 days to schedule surgery.

Risks

Risks for retinal detachment surgery may include:

  • Detachment not completely fixed (may require additional surgeries)
  • Increase in eye pressure (elevated intraocular pressure)
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

General anesthesia may be required. The risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Reactions to medications
  • Problems breathing

After the Procedure

The chances of successful reattachment of the retina depend on the number of holes, their size, and whether there is scar tissue in the area.

Most of the time, the retina can be reattached with only one operation, although some people need several surgeries. Less than 10% of detachments cannot be repaired. Failure to repair the retina always leads to poor or no vision in the eye.

After surgery, the quality of vision depends on where the detachment occurred:

  • If the central area of vision was not involved, vision will usually be very good.
  • If the central area of vision was involved for less than 1 week, vision will usually be improved, but not 20/20 (normal).
  • If the central area of vision was detached for a long time, vision will return, but it will not be sharp.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The procedures usually do not require an overnight hospital stay.

You will need to limit activities for some time.

If the doctor repaired the retina using the gas bubble procedure, you must keep your head face down or turned to one side for several weeks. It is important to maintain this position so the gas bubble pushes the retina in place. Patients with a gas bubble in the eye may not fly.

References

Yanoff M, Duker JS, Augsburger JJ, et al. Ophthalmology. 2nd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2004:786-791.

Costarides AP. Elevated intraocular pressure following vitreoretinal surgery. Ophthalmol Clin North Am. 2004;17(4):507-512.


Review Date: 8/22/2008
Reviewed By: Paul B. Griggs, MD, Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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