Vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery that treats disorders of the retina and vitreous. The retina is the light-sensing tissue at the back of the eye. The vitreous is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the middle of the eye. The vitreous is removed during vitrectomy surgery and usually replaced by a saltwater solution. Why do you need a vitrectomy? Your ophthalmologist (medical eye doctor) may recommend vitrectomy surgery to treat the following eye problems:

-  Diabetic retinopathy, where there is bleeding and scar tissue;
-  Some retinal detachment;
-  Infection inside the eye;
-  Severe eye injury;
-  Wrinkling of the retina (macular pucker)
-  Macular hole (partial loss of vision for fine details)
-  Certain problems after cataract surgery.

How can a vitrectomy improve your vision?

Vitrectomy surgery often improves or stabilizes your vision. The operation removes any blood or debris (from infection or inflammation) that may be blocking or blurring light as it focuses on the retina. Vitrectomy surgery removes scar tissue that can displace, wrinkle or tear the retina. Vision is poor if the retina is not in its normal position. A foreign object may be stuck inside the eye as the result of an injury. Most foreign objects will damage vision if they are not removed.

What happens if you decide to have vitrectomy surgery?

Before surgery your ophthalmologist will decide whether local or general anesthesia is best for you. You may have to stay overnight in the hospital. Before surgery you will need to have a physical examination to alert your ophthalmolgist to any special medical risks. A painless ultrasound test may be performed before the surgery to view the inside of the eye.

Vitrectomy surgery

The length of the operation varies from one to several hours, depending on your condition. In certain situations, your ophthalmologist may do another surgical procedure at the same time, such as repairing a detached retina or removing a cataract. Your ophthalmologist does the operation while looking into your eye with a microscope. Various miniature instruments are placed into the eye through tiny incisions in the sclera (white part of the eye) In order to get the best possible vision for you, your ophthalmologist will do one or more of the following:

-  Remove all cloudy vitreous
-  Remove any scar tissue present, attempting to return the retina to its normal position;
-  Remove any foreign object that might be in the eye;
-  Treat the eye with laser to reduce future bleeding, or to fix a tear in the retina;
-  Place an air or gas bubble in the eye to help the retina remain in its proper position. The bubble will slowly disappear on its own;
-  Inject a special fluid that is later removed from the eye.

After surgery 

You can expect some discomfort after surgery. You will need to wear an eye patch for a short time. Your ophthalmologist will prescribe eye drops for you and advise you when to resume normal activity. If a gas bubble was placed in your eye, you ophthalmologist may recommend that you keep your head in special positions until the gas bubble is gone. Do not fly in an airplane or travel up to high altitudes until the gas bubble is gone! A rapid increase in altitude can cause a dangerous rise in eye pressure. What are the risks of your vitrectomy surgery? All types of surgery have certain risks, but the risks are less than the expected benefits to your vision. Some of the risks of vitrectomy include:

-  Infection;
-  Bleeding;
-  Retinal detachment;
-  Poor vision;
-  High pressure in the eye;
-  Cataract is uncommon right after surgery - elderly patients often develop cataract over many months.

How much will your vision improve?

Your vision after surgery will depend on may variables, especially if your eye disease caused permanent damage to your retina before the vitrectomy. Your ophthalmologist will discuss your situation with you and how much improvement in your eyesight is possible.

American Academy of Ophthalmology
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Copyright 1984 American Academy of Ophthalmology