A vitrectomy is a surgical procedure that’s done to remove the fluid, known as vitreous humor or just vitreous, inside your eyeball.
Vitreous may be removed for many reasons. It’s most commonly done so that your surgeon can access your retina, a layer of tissue at the back of your eye that’s connected to your optic nerve. The retina sends signals to your brain so that you can see.
A vitrectomy may be done if your vitreous is infected, inflamed, or filled with blood or bits of tissue known as floaters. A vitrectomy can also help your doctor treat conditions that can affect your retina or the inside of your eyeball, such as:
- bleeding inside your eye
- eye infections (endophthalmitis)
- wrinkles, tears, or injury in the retina
- detached retina, which happens when your retina separates from its usual place and floats around in your eye
- major trauma or injury to your eye
- diabetic retinopathy, which happens when complications from diabetes damage your retina
- macular hole, which happens when the tissue in your retina that helps you see details is damaged
The success rate for vitrectomy is around 90 percent, even if you’re over 60.
Before you go to a hospital or clinic to have this procedure done, make sure someone can take you home and that you can get a few days off work or other activities. Your doctor may ask you not to eat or drink anything eight hours before the surgery.
Once you’ve been admitted and prepped for surgery, you’ll be given mild anesthesia to numb your eye unless you prefer general anesthesia so that you can remain unconscious throughout the procedure. General anesthesia has more risks and side effects, so your doctor may not recommend using it unless you have anxiety about the surgery.
During the procedure, your surgeon:
- Makes sure that your eyelids are fully opened.
- Cuts into the first layer of your eye tissue.
- Cuts into the white tissue of your eye, known as the sclera.
- Inserts cutters, scissors, and forceps through one of the cuts.
- Inserts a fiber-optic light into one of the other cuts to see the inside of your eye.
- Removes vitreous and other necessary tissues through one of the cuts.
- Replaces the vitreous with another substance, such as gas, air, or a saline solution. This substance will eventually be replaced by a fluid that your eye naturally creates.
- Performs any other surgeries to repair your retina or remove damaged tissue from the eye, such as using a laser to fix any issues with your retina.
- Removes any tools and lights and stitches up the openings in your eye. In many cases, your doctor will not need to use stitches.
After your recovery, your doctor will monitor your condition and let you know when you’re able to leave the hospital. You should be able to go home the same day, but you may need to stay overnight if other procedures were done.
Make sure a friend or family member can drive you home. While you’re recovering:
- Take any eye drops your doctor prescribes to stop any eye infections.
- Don’t drive until your doctor says that your vision has returned to normal.
- Don’t fly or travel to high altitudes until your doctor says it’s okay to do so.
- Don’t lift anything over 10 pounds or do any strenuous physical activity.
- Lie face down or turn your head to one side for an extended period of time after your surgery according to your doctor’s instructions. If your eye was filled with gas or another substance, this helps maintain pressure in your eye.
Your doctor will suggest using pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil), to help manage any pain or soreness in your eye. Your doctor might also ask you to wear an eye patch for a few days.
You should be able to return to your normal activities within a few days. You may need to wait a few weeks if your surgery was more extensive.
The cost for a vitrectomy can vary based on your health insurance plan and the surgeon you choose to do the procedure.
Vitrectomy is a simple, effective procedure with few risk and complications. Your risk for complications may be higher if the procedure was done to repair extensive damage to your eye or retina.
Possible complications of a vitrectomy include:
- retinal tearing or detaching
- bleeding in the eye
- complications from anesthesia, such as pneumonia or stroke
- formation of too much scar tissue in the eye
- decrease in vision
A vitrectomy is a low-risk procedure with a high chance of success that can treat many eye conditions.
In some cases, your vision may improve if substances or blood in your vitreous were causing you to have clouded or blurry vision. Before you have this procedure done, talk to your doctor about what to expect from your vision.