What is vitrectomy?

Vitrectomy is a surgical operation to remove the vitreous gel from the center cavity of the eye.

What is vitrectomy used for?

There are many indications for vitrectomy surgery. The surgery can be used to clear blood from the vitreous cavity (vitreous hemorrhage), to peel scar tissue from the retinal surface (epiretinal membrane), to repair a macular hole, to fix a retinal detachment, and for other less common problems. The need for vitreous surgery should be discussed with your eye doctor.

How is vitrectomy done?

Vitrectomy is outpatient surgery done in an operating room – typically in a hospital or ambulatory surgery center. The surgery is done using local or general anesthesia. Microscopic incisions are made through the white part of the eye (sclera) just behind the cornea. Tiny instruments are placed through these incisions allowing the surgeon’s instruments to enter the center cavity of the eye. The surgeon views the instruments through the patient’s pupil using a microscope. Special instruments remove the vitreous gel while clear fluid flows into the eye to replace the gel. Microscopic tweezers can be used to peel scar tissue from the retina surface (membrane peeling). Sometimes an air or gas bubble, or silicone oil, is placed into the vitreous cavity at the end of surgery. Laser treatment can also be applied during the surgery if it is needed. At the end of the procedure the eye is patched closed until the next morning.

What is the recovery period after vitrectomy?

Patients go home the day of surgery or the day after surgery. The first post-operative visit takes place the day after surgery at which time post-operative instructions are given. Several different types of drops will be used by the patient at home for approximately one month. If air, gas, or silicone oil was placed into the eye during surgery, it may be necessary for the patient to keep their head in a certain position (left side down, for example) as much as possible after surgery. Some patients notice improvement in vision immediately after surgery, and for others improvement can take several months. Pain is not a significant problem after vitrectomy surgery – it can usually be managed with non-prescription pain medications. Most patients can return to work two weeks after surgery.

Are there any risks associated with vitrectomy?

Any surgery has some associated risk. Vitrectomy surgery has been well studied since the 1970’s. The most frequent side effect of vitrectomy is progression of cataract in the operated eye (only if cataract surgery has not been done already). If a cataract progresses significantly after vitrectomy, it may be necessary to have cataract surgery done several months thereafter. Other complications that could occur include infection with the eye, retinal detachment, bleeding, and others. Some complications are more serious than others. Fortunately, serious complications are rare. As with any surgery, the surgeon and the patient must weigh the benefits of surgery against the potential risks.