What is laser?

Laser is a thin beam of light that can be aimed at a tissue in the eye to cause a tissue reaction. It is similar to a spotlight in the sky, except that it is microscopic in size.

What is laser used for?

Laser can be used to treat many parts of the eye, but the discussion here is limited to the retina – the thin layer of nerve cells in the back of the eye. The retina is like the film in a camera – it captures the images that we see. Some of the retinal disorders that can be treated with laser include macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, a retinal tear, and retinal vascular occlusions (vein and artery occlusions).

How is laser treatment done?

Laser treatment is done in the office. The physician and patient need to discuss the reasons for doing laser treatment, as well as the risks, alternatives, and complications. Of course, this varies depending on the patient’s retinal problem. The treatment is started after numbing the eye with drops or with an eyelid injection. The laser beam is focused on the area of the retina that needs treatment. Typically, the treatment takes no longer than 15 minutes. After the laser treatment, the eye may be patched closed for several hours. If so, the patch is removed by the patient at home.

What is the recovery period after laser treatment?

Most patients can resume work, school, or their usual activities the day after laser treatment. Pain is unusual but, if present, can be treated with non-prescription or prescription pain medication.

How does laser treatment work?

Essentially, laser energy gets absorbed in the retina and produces a microscopic spot of heat. The heat can be used to seal leaky blood vessels, to “spot weld” torn retinal tissue, or to treat areas of the retina with poor circulation. There are different colors (wavelengths) of laser light, and some work better for different problems than others do.

Are there any risks associated with laser treatment?

Any treatment, including laser, has an element of risk. However, lasers have been used to treat retinal disorders for decades, and they have an excellent track record. It is best to discuss the risks and benefits of treatment with your eye doctor – there are different types of laser treatment (macular or central, peripheral, light, intense, etc.), and various retinal disorders respond better than others to laser treatment.