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What is Photocoagulation?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Photocoagulation is a type of laser surgery which is used to treat detachment of the retina. This treatment involves the use of an argon laser which converts a high-intensity light beam into heat which seals tears in retinal tissue. The laser treatment can also prevent the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which is a common side effect of retinal detachment. Photocoagulation for the treatment of a detached retina can prevent further loss of vision and retinal abnormalities.

There are three main types of retinal detachment. The first, rhegmatogenous detachment, develops due to age, because the liquid-filled vitreous body in the center of the eye shrinks as it ages. This can cause the retina to separate from the vitreous body, causing vision disturbances.

The second type is called a traction retinal detachment. This commonly occurs in people with diabetes, due to glucose-mediated inflammation combined with poor circulation. The third type of retinal detachment is called exudative attachment, and is the result of a build-up of fluid between the retina and the choriod, a structure which is located beneath the retina. When fluid builds up, it can cause the retina to detach. This type of detachment is usually caused by cancer or inflammatory disorders.

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Photocoagulation can be used as a treatment for all three types of retinal detachment. In this type of treatment, an argon laser is used. This laser narrowly focuses a beam of light which is then directed to the portion of detached retina at the back of the eye. The beam of light is focused to the specific spot where the retina is detached. When the light beam reaches the retina, light is absorbed by cells, and then converted into heat energy. The heal seals the detached retina. This treatment usually takes thirty minutes or less.

To prepare for photocoagulation treatment, a patient is given eye drops to numb the eye and dilate the pupil. The treatment is generally painless, but eye drops are needed because some patients are sensitive to the laser light. Once the treatment is over, the patient can leave immediately. He or she should keep the eye covered for several hours due to an increased sensitivity to light. In addition the patient should arrange for transport home, as the medication given prior to the treatment can reduce driving ability.

There are few risks associated with photocoagulation therapy, and this type of treatment is generally more successful than other treatments for retinal detachment. The majority of detached retinas can be successfully treated with one session of laser therapy, but in some cases a second session may be required. Successful treatment will improve the patient’s vision within six months of the procedure.

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