Diabetic Retinopathy: Having a Vitrectomy

Eye with part of outside removed to show cloudy vitreous gel inside.

You have diabetic retinopathy, a condition that happens when diabetes damages blood vessels in the rear of the eye. It can cause cloudy vision and other problems. But a surgical procedure called vitrectomy may help make your sight clearer.

What is vitrectomy?

When healthy, vitreous (the gel that fills the eye) is clear. But with diabetic retinopathy, it can become clouded with blood or debris. During vitrectomy, the eye healthcare provider removes the cloudy vitreous and replaces it with fluid, silicone oil, or gas. In addition, the retina may be repaired if there is scar tissue. This can help make your vision clearer. But if vision problems continue after vitrectomy, additional surgery may be needed. Successful vitrectomy may make possible other helpful measures to restore vision, such as laser treatments. 

Preparing for the procedure

Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements you take. This includes aspirin, ibuprofen, ginkgo, warfarin, or other blood thinners. Before surgery, an anesthesiologist (a healthcare providerwho provides medicine to control pain) will meet with you. You’ll talk about the type of anesthetic (pain medicine) that will be used during the surgery.

During the procedure

During the surgery, tiny instruments are inserted through small incisions in the sclera (white of the eye). The vitreous is removed. It is replaced with a substitute, such as saline (saltwater) solution, silicone oil, or a gas bubble that holds the retina in place. The procedure may take several hours.

Following the procedure

Be sure to have an adult family member or friend drive you home after the procedure. Wear dark sunglasses on the way home. Before leaving, you’ll be told how to protect and care for your eye. Don’t rub, touch, or bump your eye. Ask your healthcare provider how long you need to avoid lifting, exercising, or swimming. Also, ask when you can drive and return to work.

Controlling pain

Vitrectomy may cause some pain. You’ll be given medicine to control this pain. If discomfort continues, tell your healthcare provider.

Risks and complications of vitrectomy

Risks and complications include the following:

  • Swollen or droopy eyelid

  • Double or blurry vision

  • Retinal detachment

  • Bloody sclera

  • Watery or red discharge

  • Pain

  • Cloudiness in lens of the eye (cataract)

  • Unimproved vision

When to call your healthcare provider 

If pain or vision worsens after you go home, call your eye healthcare provider right away.


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