Laser retinopexy is an eye procedure performed in an office or outpatient setting to treat retinal tears. Untreated retinal tears can lead to retinal detachment, a potentially blinding condition.
The retina is a nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye and enables us to see. As we age, the jelly-like substance inside the eye called vitreous can shrink and pull on the retina sometimes leading to a retinal tear. Traction on the vitreous can cause a patient to see flashes (photopsia) and a new retinal tear can result in a release of many tiny floaters. Sometimes a retinal vessel is involved, resulting in a vitreous hemorrhage. Shrinkage of the vitreous is a normal age-related process called posterior vitreous detachment that often leads to floaters and has around a 5% risk of developing a retinal tear.
If a retinal tear is left untreated, fluid can enter the tear and detach the retina. Retinal detachment is a medical emergency that requires surgery and could lead to irreversible vision loss and blindness.
The main goal of laser retinopexy is to help reduce the risk of retinal detachment.
What is the laser retinopexy procedure?
Laser retinopexy is performed by an ophthalmologist in an office or outpatient setting without any sedation. You will be given drops to dilate the pupil that can often cause a temporary blurring of vision. Anesthetic drops are used to make the eye comfortable and a specialized contact lens may be placed on the eye to focus the laser. Your ophthalmologist will use the laser to create tiny adhesions to seal or “spot weld” the retinal tear, which will help reduce the risk of retinal detachment. It is normal for you to feel pain in the brief moment the laser energy is applied. The laser may also be delivered through a specialized headset worn by your ophthalmologist. They may apply pressure on the eye (scleral depression) to better visualize the tear, which could feel a little uncomfortable when it is being performed.
Risks and side effects of laser retinopexy
Laser retinopexy is a commonly performed procedure and complications are uncommon but may include:
- Transient blurriness, light sensitivity, and pain/discomfort
- Small grey spot noticeable in peripheral vision
- Retinal bleed, epiretinal membrane formation (rare)
- Accidental laser to the center of the retina (extremely rare)
More than one session of laser may be required to fully treat the retinal tear. Laser will not prevent the formation of new retinal tears. Occasionally, laser may not successfully prevent a retinal detachment. In this case, surgery is needed.
What should I expect after the laser retinopexy procedure?
Your vision may be blurry for a few hours after the laser and you may have light sensitivity, but usually this is mild and resolves quickly. It may be helpful to wear dark glasses after the laser and you should plan to have someone drive you home. You can resume normal activities immediately afterwards. Your doctor may arrange for another eye exam to ensure that the retina remains stable.
You should seek immediate medical attention should you develop new floaters, flashing lights, or a curtain defect/shadow across your vision (which may be symptoms of new retinal tears, bleeding, or a retinal detachment).