Having a Vitrectomy

Three-quarter view of cross-sectioned eye showing vitreous.

A vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery to treat problems with the retina and vitreous. The vitreous is a gel-like substance that fills your eye. During the surgery, your eye healthcare provider removes the vitreous. It is replaced with another solution.

What to tell your healthcare provider

Before your surgery, tell your healthcare provider:

  • What medicines you take. This includes prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines. It includes ibuprofen, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. You may need to stop taking some medicines before the procedure, such as blood thinners and aspirin.

  • If you smoke. You may need to stop before your surgery. Smoking can delay healing. Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help to stop smoking.

  • If you have had any recent changes in your health. This includes an infection or fever.

  • If you are sensitive or allergic to anything. This includes medicines, latex, tape, and anesthetic medicines.

  • If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.  

Getting ready for your surgery

Make sure to:

  • Ask a family member or friend to take you home from the hospital

  • Make plans for some help at home while you recover

  • Follow all other instructions from your healthcare provider

  • Read the consent form and ask questions if something is not clear

  • Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before surgery

Tests before your surgery

Before your surgery, your doctor will look at your retina. Special tools are used to shine a light in your eye and look at your retina. You may need to have your pupils widened (dilated) for this eye exam. If so, your doctor will use eye drops to dilate your pupils. You also may need to have an ultrasound of your eye. This helps your doctor view the retina. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images on a computer screen.

On the day of your surgery

Talk with your doctor about what to expect during your surgery. The details of the surgery will depend on the problem being treated. A doctor specially trained in eye surgery (ophthalmologist) will do your surgery. In general, you can expect the following:

  • You may have general anesthesia. This will put you into a deep sleeplike state through the surgery. Or you may be awake during the surgery. You will be given medicine to help you relax. You also may be given anesthetic eye drops and shots. This is to make sure you don’t feel anything.

  • Your doctor will make a small cut in the white part of the eye (sclera).

  • Your doctor will remove the vitreous and any scar tissue or other material.

  • Your doctor will do other repairs to your eye as needed. For example, he or she might use a laser to fix a tear in your retina. 

  • Your doctor may replace the vitreous with another type of fluid. It may also be replaced with silicone oil or saltwater (saline) solution. In some cases, your doctor may place a gas bubble into your eye, instead of fluid. This helps keep the retina in place. 

  • Your doctor may close your incisions with stitches.

  • Your doctor will put an antibiotic ointment on your eye to help prevent infection.

  • Your eye will be covered with a patch.

After your surgery

You’ll likely be able to go home the same day. Have someone drive you home. You are not allowed to drive for up to 24 hours after having anesthesia. Ask your doctor when you can go back to your normal activities.

Recovering at home

Follow all of your doctor’s instructions about eye care. Your eye may be sore after the surgery. You can take over-the-counter pain medicine as approved by your healthcare provider. You may need to use eye drops with antibiotics. This is to help prevent infection. You may need to wear an eye patch for a day or so.

If you had a gas bubble placed in your eye during your vitrectomy, you will need to follow specific instructions, such as:

  • Not flying on an airplane after the surgery. Ask your doctor when it will be safe for you to fly again.

  • Not using nitrous gas anesthesia. Ask your doctor when it will be safe for you to use nitrous gas anesthesia.

  • Not traveling to higher altitudes. Doing so can raise your eye pressure. Ask your doctor when it will be safe for you to be at higher altitudes.

  • Keep your head and eye positioned as directed by your doctor when traveling as a passenger. Ask your doctor for specific instructions.

  • Always wear a seat belt when traveling.

Follow-up care

You will need close follow-up with your doctor to see how well the surgery worked. You may have an appointment the day after the surgery. You may need more surgery in the future to remove the replacement fluid (silicone oil) from your eye.

Your vision may not be completely normal after your vitrectomy, especially if you had permanent damage to your retina. Ask your doctor how much improvement you can expect and the timeframe. If a gas bubble or silicone oil is used, it may take weeks or months to see improvement in your vision. 

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Vision that gets worse

  • Pain, redness, bruising, or swelling around your eye that gets worse

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or above, or as directed by your provider

  • Drainage from your eye