What is Retinal Detachment Surgery?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

The retina is the part of the eye that receives images and sends them to the brain. A detached retina can occur when it is pulled away from its position, which may be due to trauma or a disease, such as diabetes. The only available treatment for this condition is retinal detachment surgery. Without treatment, the patient will lose partial, or full, vision in the affected eye. The sooner the surgery is performed, the better the patient’s chances are of retaining his vision.

A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.
A scalpel is a small, sharp knife that is used in surgeries to make incisions.

There are three common procedures available to repair a detached retina. Which procedure the surgeon uses depends on the size, location, and severity of retinal detachment. Occasionally, the patient may need to undergo a secondary surgery for optimum vision restoration.

The retina transforms light into neural signals.
The retina transforms light into neural signals.

A pneumatic retinopexy is a procedure that is used for a relatively simple detachment, caused by a tear to the upper part of the retina. This type of retinal detachment surgery is done on an outpatient basis, so no hospital stay is necessary. A pneumatic retinopexy also does not require the patient to be unconscious.

A head injury may cause a detached retina.
A head injury may cause a detached retina.

After administering local anesthesia, the surgeon may need to remove a small amount of fluid from the eye. Then, a bubble of gas is injected. As this bubble expands over several days, it pushes against the retinal tear. The retinal tear will gradually seal itself, and the retina will become reattached. After several weeks, the bubble of gas will dissipate on its own.

The sooner retinal detachment surgery is performed, the more likely the patient is to retain his or her vision.
The sooner retinal detachment surgery is performed, the more likely the patient is to retain his or her vision.

A second retinal detachment surgery that is often used is called scleral buckling. Depending on the specific condition of the patient, this procedure may be performed under general or local anesthesia. It may also be performed on an outpatient basis.

In a scleral buckling procedure, the surgeon attaches a piece of silicone sponge over the area of detachment. Any accumulated fluid under the detached retina is also drained. Depending on the specific injury, the 'buckle' of silicone may need to help hold the retina in place permanently. Sometimes, the buckle can be removed after the retina is healed.

A vitrectomy is another type of retinal detachment surgery that may be used in conjunction with either a scleral buckling procedure or a pneumatic retinopexy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes small portions of vitreous fluid, or the fluid within the eye. This may be necessary if some of it has become cloudy, which may impede the surgeon’s ability to accurately perform another retinal detachment surgery.

All surgeries carry some risks. Retinal detachment surgery may result in infection, bleeding, and an elevation of the pressure within the eye. Additionally, complications due to reactions to the anesthesia can include breathing problems and allergic reactions.

The length of recovery from a retinal detachment surgery will vary, depending on the procedure and the health of the patient. Some patients may be able to recover full vision. Sometimes, patients may only notice gradual vision improvements over many months. In some cases, patients may not recover any lost vision. This may occur if the damage was too severe, or the surgery was not performed quickly enough.

There are three different types of surgical procedures designed to repair a detached retina.
There are three different types of surgical procedures designed to repair a detached retina.

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Discussion Comments

Rotergirl

Detached retinas are scary, any way you look at them. Fortunately, the signs are so pronounced, it's hard not to know something's wrong.

At least doctors can do something for detached retinas these days. There's been a time when nothing could be done at all, and the person would probably lose their vision in that eye, completely.

If you're diabetic, keep an eye on your blood sugar. You're more apt to have a detached retina if you're diabetic and not keeping your sugar down. That's just one of the complications of uncontrolled diabetes. It's one you can almost certainly prevent, too.

Pippinwhite

My former boss had a partially detached retina. It happened while he was at work, and he started saying in one eye, that it looked like a curtain was coming down over his eye. I was scared because my dad had a retinal hemorrhage and the doctor kept asking him if he saw anything like that, because he was afraid the retina was going to detach.

They did the gas bubble procedure for my boss, along with some laser therapy to seal off the tiny blood vessels that had been bleeding, too. He was lucky he was able to get to his doctor in a timely fashion. He could have lost the vision in that eye.

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