Emergency surgery is often necessary to repair a detached retina. Knowing what to expect while you recover can help you feel at ease.

If you have a detached retina, you’ll need surgery to reattach it and help preserve your vision. The type of procedure you undergo can vary depending on the severity of the detached retina.

If you have a small hole or tear in your retina, a doctor may treat it with laser surgery or freezing to help prevent it from becoming fully detached. They may use the same procedures as part of the treatment for a fully detached retina.

If your retina is fully detached, emergency surgery will be necessary to preserve your vision. Surgical treatments include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy: A surgeon injects a small air bubble into your eye to push your retina back into place. Then, they may also use laser surgery or freezing to repair your retina.
  • Scleral buckle: A surgeon places a small flexible band around your eye to push your eye together and help your retina reattach. They may then use laser surgery or freezing to make any necessary repairs.
  • Vitrectomy: A surgeon makes small incisions to remove most of the vitreous (a gel-like fluid) from your eye. Then, they may repair or reattach your retina with laser surgery or freezing. They may also inject sterile fluid, an air bubble, a gas bubble, or silicone oil into your eye to hold your retina in place.

After retinal detachment surgery, you may wonder what’s in store during your recovery. While many recovery guidelines are the same across the board, there are a few variations depending on the procedure you had.

If a doctor needs to repair only a tear or hole in your retina, they will typically perform laser surgery or freezing procedures with local anesthesia in a medical office. You’ll be awake during the procedure but may feel discomfort.

However, emergency surgery often takes place in a hospital and often requires general anesthesia. You may wake up feeling groggy.

If your procedure involved injecting a gas bubble into your eye, you’ll need to lie face down immediately afterward. Staying in this position for a week or longer helps the bubble float to the right location to hold your retina in place.

Special cushioned pillows hold your head stable in a comfortable position.

If your procedure took place in a doctor’s office, you can go home the same day.

If your surgery was done in the hospital, when you go home will vary depending on the procedure. Some people are discharged from the hospital the same day, while others might need to stay in the hospital for a short time for monitoring.

You’ll need to make arrangements to be picked up. You won’t be able to drive immediately after retinal detachment surgery. You can pick up any prescription medications as you leave.

Depending on the procedure, your doctor may give you an eye patch to wear for the next day.

You’ll also need to take 2–4 weeks off from work to rest and heal.

After retinal detachment surgery, it’s normal to experience certain symptoms in your treated eye, including:

  • discomfort
  • floaters
  • flashing lights
  • blurry vision
  • swelling
  • redness

Your doctor will prescribe medication to relieve pain and possibly eye drops to reduce swelling and prevent infection.

It’s important to rest and be less active for the first few weeks after surgery. You should not exercise or drive.

If you had a bubble injected into your eye, you’ll need to stay face down at all times, even while:

  • sitting
  • standing
  • eating
  • walking
  • sleeping

Your doctor will tell you how long you need to remain face down, which could be anywhere from a few days to a week or more. Following these instructions is essential to prevent other eye issues.

Any discomfort, swelling, or redness should start to get better. You may continue to see floaters and flashing lights, but they will eventually disappear.

You need to wait for your doctor’s approval before you increase your activity level or start to drive again. By 4 weeks after the procedure, you can usually get back to work.

Even if you doctor has cleared you for activity, if a bubble was injected into your eye, you’ll still need to avoid changes in altitude for up to a few months. That means no flying in an airplane, hiking mountains, or scuba diving. This helps prevent the bubble from expanding and increasing your eye pressure.

You should start to notice improvements in your vision within 4–6 weeks after the procedure. However, it can take months for your vision to stabilize. Your retina may take a year or more to fully heal.

Follow these tips to promote healing after retinal detachment surgery:

  • Wear an eye patch for as long as your doctor recommends.
  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on remaining face down.
  • Avoid changes in altitude.
  • Wait for your doctor’s approval to increase activity levels.
  • Schedule follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor your healing.

Your doctor should provide specific recovery instructions based on your exact procedure.

After undergoing a retinal attachment procedure, it’s important to avoid:

  • exercising
  • heavy lifting
  • driving alcohol
  • working

Some people also need to avoid being face up or participating in activities that involve altitude changes.

There shouldn’t be any long-term restrictions after retinal detachment surgery.

Ask your doctor how long you should follow specific restrictions such as avoiding flying or scuba diving. Once you have your doctor’s approval, you should be able to go back to your usual routine.

Any surgical procedure comes with risks. Surgery for a detached retina may increase your risk of:

In most cases, the benefits of retinal detachment surgery outweigh the risks.

After surgery, contact your doctor if:

  • your vision seems worse
  • you’re experiencing a lot of pain
  • you’re experiencing a lot of swelling

Even after you’ve fully healed from surgery, it’s possible to experience a detached retina again later. Contact your doctor if any of your original symptoms return.

Exactly how much your vision may improve depends on how much damage your retina sustained as a result of the detachment. In many cases, you should start to notice improvements in your vision by 6 weeks after the procedure.

Retinal detachment surgery is successful for 90% of those who undergo it. Postoperative vision improvement is related to many factors, such as how much of your retina detached and how soon surgery occurred.

It’s possible to recover your vision from before the detachment. Treatment works especially well when the detached retina is caught early.

However, the results of a 2021 study suggest that surgery success rates may be lower and visual outcomes may be worse in people who:

  • are older
  • are nonwhite
  • are male
  • have lower socioeconomic status

Here are some common questions about recovery from retinal detachment surgery.

Can you improve vision after retinal detachment surgery?

Your vision may be blurry immediately after retinal detachment surgery. After 4–6 weeks, your vision should start to improve. However, it may take a year or longer for your retina to fully heal.

How long after retinal detachment surgery can you drive?

You will not be able to drive for a few weeks after retinal detachment surgery. Make sure to get the OK from your doctor before getting behind the wheel.

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

Recovery time from retinal detachment surgery takes an average of 3–8 weeks. Exact recovery time depends on the severity of the detachment and the type of procedure you had. It may take:

  • 3 or more weeks to recover from pneumatic retinopexy
  • 4 or more weeks to recover from scleral buckle
  • 4 or more weeks to recover from vitrectomy

Ask your doctor about your anticipated recovery time, which can vary based on your individual circumstances.

Doctors can use various procedures to help correct a detached retina and preserve your vision. While you should start to feel better and notice improvements within a month, your retina can take more than a year to fully heal after surgery.

In general, this type of surgery is very successful. However, the earlier retinal detachment is detected and treated, the more favorable the results may be.