A vitrectomy is the surgical procedure for treating diabetic retinopathy. Surgery is aimed at getting better access to your retina to improve or stop vision loss from this diabetes complication.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication for people with diabetes, affecting more than a third of people with diabetes. It’s the cause of 80% of vision loss for people with diabetes.

Medicated injections and laser therapy are often used first in treating more advanced diabetic retinopathy, but surgery may also be required.

This article will explain everything you should know about surgery for retinopathy, including when an eye specialists may consider surgery over other treatments and how long recovery can take.

Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the blood vessels in your retina, where they start to leak. It’s caused by high blood sugar over a long period of time and can cause changes to your vision and even blindness if not treated appropriately.

A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure to treat diabetic retinopathy. It’s often the last treatment option for people with this diabetes-related complication.

This type of procedure is normally only performed on people who have more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy after significant damage to their retina has occurred and they’re experiencing symptoms such as blurry vision or vision loss.

In a vitrectomy, the blood-filled vitreous gel is surgically removed from your eye and replaced with a clear solution. This helps to improve your vision before severe damage has occurred.

This surgery is usually done when there’s bleeding in your eye caused by leaking blood vessels or as a treatment for diabetes-related retinal detachment. It can also be performed to remove scar tissue.

Vitrectomy is recommended for advanced proliferative diabetic retinopathy, but a doctor may wait up to a year to see if the blood will clear on its own before attempting surgery.

Surgical procedures to treat diabetic retinopathy are often needed in later stages of the disease. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, treatment is often not necessary.

Regularly having your eyes and retinas checked is crucial for monitoring your blood vessels and detecting irregularities. Careful blood sugar and blood pressure control can also delay and even prevent diabetic retinopathy.

In more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy, especially after you start experiencing debilitating symptoms such as blurry vision and loss of vision, more invasive treatments such as surgery are recommended to help stop the damage, prevent vision loss, and potentially restore vision.

By removing the blood-filled vitreous, the surgeon can restore a view of your retina. This allows for laser treatment to stop progression of retinopathy.

Scatter laser treatment and a vitrectomy are different eye surgery procedures to help someone with advanced diabetic retinopthy. While the laser therapy alone is noninvasive, a vitrectomy is considered an invasive form of eye surgery.

In scatter laser treatment (pan-retinal photocoagulation), a small laser makes scattered burn marks across your peripheral retina, making new blood vessels shrink and disappear. The procedure requires up to 3,000 laser burns, which are usually done in two to three sessions.

A vitrectomy is usually a more intricate procedure and is used for more advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy. Sometimes after a vitrectomy, people need additional laser treatments.

You can read more about these other diabeticretinopathy treatments here.

You may consider consulting a doctor about treatment options and which procedure they recommend for you based on the type and extent of retina damage you may be experiencing.

A vitrectomy involves the complete removal of the vitreous humor gel that fills your eye cavity. This provides better access to and visualization of your retina.

From here, an eye surgeon has the ability to correct additional damage, including the treatment of macular holes, laser repair of retinal detachments, and removal of scar tissue.

After any additional repairs are made, a clear solution (saline, a gas bubble, or silicone oil) is injected into the vitreous gel to hold your retina in place firmly.

There are two different kinds of vitrectomies.

The more common procedure is called a posterior pars plana vitrectomy, where repairs are made to damage to the posterior segment of your eye.

In rarer cases, an anterior vitrectomy is performed to repair vitreous gel that has come through your pupil into the front chamber of your eye.

An anterior vitrectomy is usually performed due to eye injuries or during cataract, cornea, or glaucoma surgery and to prevent future vision difficulties. Many people with diabetic retinopathy undergo a posterior pars plana vitrectomy.

A vitrectomy is designed to be painless. Doctors go to great lengths to make sure you’re comfortable the entire time.

During a vitrectomy, you’ll usually be treated with localized anesthetic and a lidocaine shot, so there’s little or no pain. Depending on your personal clinical circumstances, general anesthetic may be recommended instead.

You can expect some soreness and may be uncomfortable for several days after the operation until your eyes heal. Any persistent pain postsurgery isn’t typcial. In that case, it’s best to consult your surgeon.

Exact recovery time will vary from person to person and will be based on your health and age.

Typically, after eye surgery, your vision will remain blurry for 24 hours postoperation. Many people will require between 2–4 weeks to recover fully before returning to normal activities such as driving and exercising and returning to work.

It’s crucial to rest when you return home from eye surgery and refrain from lifting heavy objects and doing activities that cause your head to move and bob around.

According to the National Eye Institute, you may need to take these steps after surgery:

  • Wear an eye patch for a day or more.
  • Use eye drops to reduce swelling and prevent infections.
  • Avoid activities such as driving, intense exercise, and heavy lifting.
  • Depending on your type of job, you may need to take as many as 4 weeks off work.
  • Revise your schedule to have someone else drive for you and for light exercising.

If a doctor puts a gas bubble into your eye to replace the vitreous gel, they may offer additional postsurgery recommendations:

  • keeping your head in a certain position for a few days or weeks, so the gas bubble doesn’t move
  • not flying in an airplane or traveling to high altitudes while the bubble is in your eye

Some eye procedures such as a vitrectomy prevent people from lying or sleeping on their backs while their eyes heal. Your surgical and healthcare team will likely discuss with you any individualized care instructions postoperation.

The success rate for these procedures is high. The success rate for vitrectomy is 90%.

But individual results will vary based on your age and health history.

Depending on the stage and severity of your retinopathy, a doctor may recommend more involved procedures to preserve your vision and slow or stop the retinopathy, including a surgical procedure known as a vitrectomy.

These procedures are invasive but cause minimal discomfort and pain. During a vitrectomy, the cloudy vitreous humor gel is surgically removed, giving the doctor better visualization of your retina to correct eye damage.

Treatment may include repairing macular holes, laser repair of retinal detachments, and removal of scar tissue. The removed vitreous gel is replaced with sterile saline, a gas bubble, or silicone oil.

A vitrectomy requires several weeks’ recovery time, and the success rate is around 90%. Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing retinopathy and are curious about your treatment options.