Diabetic Retinopathy: Having a Vitrectomy

You have diabetic retinopathy. This condition happens when diabetes harms blood vessels in the back of the eye. It can cause cloudy eyesight and other problems. But surgery called vitrectomy may help you see more clearly.

What is vitrectomy?

The gel (vitreous humor) that fills the eye is normally clear. But with diabetic retinopathy, this gel can be clouded with blood or debris. During vitrectomy, the eye healthcare provider takes out the cloudy gel. It is replaced with fluid, silicone oil, or gas. The retina may also be fixed if there is scar tissue. This can help you see more clearly. If you still have problems seeing after you surgery, more surgery may be needed. A vitrectomy may make it possible to do other procedures to restore eyesight. These include laser treatments. 

Getting ready for the surgery

Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It includes aspirin, ibuprofen, ginkgo, warfarin, or other blood thinners. It also includes vitamins, herbs, and supplements. Before surgery, you will meet with a healthcare provider (anesthesiologist) who provides medicine to control pain. You’ll talk about the type of pain medicine and sedation (anesthesia) you will have during the surgery.

You will be asked to sign a consent form. This explains the risk of the procedure. By signing the form, you agree to the surgery. Have all of your questions answered before signing the consent form.

During the surgery

During the surgery, small cuts (incisions) are made in the white of the eye (the sclera). Tiny tools are put through the cuts. The vitreous is removed. It is replaced with a substitute that holds the retina in place. This may be saltwater (saline) solution. Or it may be silicone oil or a gas bubble. The surgery may take a few hours.

After the surgery

An adult family member or friend must drive you home after the surgery. 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. You may need to wear an eye patch for a few days or weeks. The surgeon may tell you to lie face down for a while after the surgery. This helps the retina heal. Ask your provider how long you must wait before you can lift things, exercise, or swim. Also ask when you can drive. And go back to work.

Before you leave, know what number to call if you have questions or problems when you get home. You should also have written discharge instructions. If you have low vision, ask the provider to print the information in a larger size you can read.

Controlling pain

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

Risks and possible complications include:

  • Swollen or droopy eyelid

  • Double or blurry vision

  • Detached retina

  • Bloody white of the eye (sclera)

  • Watery or red discharge

  • Pain

  • Cloudy eye lens (cataract)

  • Eyesight doesn't get better

When to call your healthcare provider 

After you go home, call your healthcare provider right away if you have: 

  • More pain

  • Problems seeing after the eye patch is removed