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Retinal Detachment Surgery

A detached retina happens when the light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye pulls away from the underlying tissue. Retinal detachment is an emergency and needs treatment right away to prevent vision loss.

The eye experts at the UPMC Vision Institute perform several types of detached retina surgery regularly.

Contact Us

For more information, or to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist, please contact the UPMC Vision Institute at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.

Request an appointment online.

What Is Retinal Detachment Surgery?

See an eye doctor right away if you have any of these signs of a detached retina:

  • Sudden floaters.
  • Flashes of light.
  • A curtain across your field of vision.
  • A loss of central vision.
Risk factors for retinal detachment include aging, scar tissue, and trauma to the eye.

Retinal detachment surgery is one of several treatments to reattach the retina to the back of the eye. Small retinal tears may not need surgery. Your doctor may be able to fix tiny holes or tears in the retina with freeze treatment or laser procedures.

Complete retinal detachments may require surgery. At the UPMC Vision Institute, our experts do three retinal detachment treatments. They are:

  • Scleral buckle. The doctor sews a patch of rubber or soft plastic to the outside of the eyeball. This patch pushes the wall of the eye closer to the retina to help close it. The doctor may seal it with lasers or a freeze treatment.
  • Pneumatic retinopexy. The doctor inserts a small air bubble into the eye to push the retina back into place. They may use laser or freeze treatment to repair any holes or tears. As the eye heals, your body will make fluid to fill the eye and replace the gas bubble.
  • Vitrectomy. The doctor will remove the vitreous gel if it's pulling on the retina. They then push the retina back and seal it with a laser. They fill the eye with a gas bubble to hold the retina in place during healing.

Is retinal detachment surgery serious?

Detached retina surgery is serious. Your eye is a delicate and complex organ. However, you will lose your eyesight if you have a detached retina and don't have retina surgery.

Retinal Detachment Surgery Benefits and Risks

The potential risks and complications of retina surgery are:

  • Bleeding.
  • Infection.
  • Cataracts.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Double vision.
  • Droopy eyelid.
  • Growth of scar tissue.
  • Recurrence of the detached retina.

The main benefit of retina surgery — not losing your vision — almost always outweighs the risks of surgery. Retinal detachment treatment is successful for nine out of 10 people.

What To Expect Before, During, and After Retinal Detachment Surgery

Retinal detachment treatments are usually outpatient surgeries. That means you'll go home the same day.

Here's what you can expect.

Before detached retina surgery

Your doctor will give you specific instructions about getting ready for the surgery.

These may include:

  • When you should bathe. You may want to shower the night before the surgery. After the procedure, you need to keep your eye dry and may not be able to shower for a while.
  • What time you should stop eating or drinking. For morning surgeries, it's usually around midnight the night before.
  • Whether or not to take your regular medicines. If you're on blood thinners, you may need to stop taking them a few days before the surgery.

You'll need someone to drive you to the hospital or surgical center. Once there, nurses will review your health information and prepare you for surgery.

During retinal detachment surgery

During the retina surgery, you'll receive some anesthesia. What kind depends on your general health and how complex the procedure is.

You may have:

  • General anesthesia. You'll be unconscious for the surgery.
  • "Twilight" anesthesia. You'll be in a light, relaxed sedation.
  • Local anesthesia. Your eye area will be numb, but you'll be awake.

Detached retina surgery can take anywhere from an hour to several hours. It depends on where the detachment is, its severity, and your overall health.

Your doctor can give you full details about what to expect.

How painful is retinal detachment surgery?

You won't feel pain during retina surgery.

During your recovery, you may feel some discomfort. Your eye may be swollen and red.

If you have stitches, you may feel some scratchiness until they dissolve. If you have a scleral buckle, you may feel an ache deeper in the eye.

Your doctor may prescribe medicine such as ibuprofen to help ease pain and swelling.

After detached retina surgery

You'll go to the recovery room while you come out of anesthesia.

Nurses will continue to check on you. You'll lie on your side or face down, depending on where the retinal detachment was.

Once the doctor okays it, you can go home with a patch over the affected eye. You'll need someone to drive you home.

Your doctor may prescribe eye drops to reduce swelling and prevent infection.

If there's a bubble in your eye, you'll need to keep your head in a certain position for several days. Your doctor will tell you exactly what to do.

You can't fly in an airplane or be at a high altitude while the bubble is in place.

You'll need to come back to see the doctor the day after your surgery and again one week later. The next post-op checkup will be about a month if you have no problems.

How long does it take to recover from retinal detachment surgery?

Most people go home on the same day as the surgery.

Your recovery time will vary depending on:

  • How severe your detachment was.
  • Your overall health.
  • Your lifestyle.

If you have a desk job, you can often return to work within a few days. If your job involves heavy lifting or other physical activity, you may need to wait four to six weeks.

Can doctors restore my vision after retinal detachment?

How soon and to what extent your vision returns can vary.

At first, your vision may be blurrier than before the surgery. But it may continue to improve for up to a year.

It's vital to have detached retina treatment as soon as possible. The more quickly you get treatment, the less likely you will lose some or all of your vision.

Contact the UPMC Vision Institute

Questions about retinal detachment surgery?

Call us at 412-647-2200 or 1-800 446-3797.