There are three types of surgery used to repair a detached retina. The recovery timeline is different for each, but the overall range is two to six weeks.

A retinal detachment can result in permanent vision loss if it is not treated quickly. The detachment happens when the retina pulls away from its normal position.

The type of surgery a doctor performs depends on the severity of the retinal detachment.

Pneumatic retinopexy helps the retina to attach itself to the eye’s wall.

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Scleral buckling uses a silicone material to make the repair. This technique may be ideal for extensive detachment.

Vitrectomy may be done with or without silicone. It involves removing the vitreous and any other tissue that is pulling on the retina.

Recovery Timeline

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There are three primary types of detached retina surgery. The one the surgeon chooses will depend on the severity of the detachment.

The recovery timeline depends on multiple factors, such as the person’s overall health, the exact surgery performed, and how they approach the post-surgical period.

The following are the average recovery times for the three primary types of detached retina surgeries:

  • For pneumatic retinopexy, the recovery time is approximately three weeks.
  • For scleral buckling, the recovery time is approximately two to four weeks.
  • For vitrectomy, the recovery time is approximately four to six weeks.

Pneumatic Retinopexy

This procedure may be done in an office setting unlike other detached retina procedures. It works to reposition the retina and hold it in place until it attaches on its own.

Preparation

The doctor will provide full instructions regarding how to prepare for this procedure. It is imperative that everything is followed exactly.

Patients must undergo all eye examinations necessary before surgery.

Procedure

The doctor will inject either a gas or air bubble into the vitreous cavity of the eye. The bubble works to push the detached portion of the retina so fluid stops flowing into the space behind this structure. Any fluid that did collect before the surgery is naturally absorbed, allowing the retina to attach itself to the eye wall.

In some cases, cryopexy is used as part of this surgery. This is a technique that releases extreme cold to promote scar tissue formation. A metal probe is used to introduce the cold into the proper area of the eye.

Recovery

Following this surgery, people have to maintain a specific head position for several days. This is necessary to ensure that the bubble stays in place long enough to repair the detached retina. Eventually, the bubble absorbs on its own.

After the surgery, people should expect about three weeks for recovery. They cannot travel by air during the recovery period because doing so could expand the bubble.

If any of the following symptoms occur, people must alert their doctor immediately:

  • Reduced vision
  • Signs of infection around the eye, such as redness, swelling, or pain that is getting worse
  • Any new visual field changes, such as flashes, lights, or floaters
  • Any discharge coming from the eye

There are possible risks of pneumatic retinopexy.

  • A retinal detachment that is not repaired and recurs
  • Scar-like process on the retina that causes another detachment
  • Gas getting trapped in the eye
  • Eye inflammation
  • Bleeding in the eye
  • New retinal tear
  • Folds in the retina
  • Increased eye pressure
  • Detached choroid, which is below the retina

Surgeons performing an eye surgery under the microscope at the hospital - healthcare and medicine concepts

Scleral Buckling

This procedure uses a piece of silicone to repair the retinal detachment. People who have extensive detachment may undergo this procedure.

Preparation

The doctor may ask people to temporarily stop using certain medications to prepare for this surgery. Fasting for approximately 12 hours before is also common.

The doctor will evaluate the eye before doing the procedure. This allows them to document the condition of the retina and the severity of the tear before starting surgery.

Procedure

The doctor will take a silicone material and stitch it into the white part of the eye in the area that is affected by the detachment. The eye wall indents as part of the procedure to relieve some of the force associated with the retina being tugged on by the vitreous.

If there is an extensive detachment or multiple tears, the doctor may encircle the eye, creating a scleral buckle. This would work similarly to how a belt keeps pants around the waist. The belt will not block a person’s vision, and it is usually permanent once it is in place.

Recovery

People should expect two to four weeks of recovery with this surgery.

Following the procedure, it is common to have to apply antibiotic eyedrops for a short period to reduce the risk of infection.

Wearing an eye patch on a short-term basis is also common. The doctor will let the patient know how long to wear the patch.

People usually go home the same day following a brief period in recovery. It is common to have some eye soreness following this surgery.

Patients should immediately alert their doctor if they experience more pain, decreased vision, or swelling.

Like all surgeries, there are possible risks people should know about before going into the operating room. The following are possible risks of scleral buckling:

  • Scar formation under or on the retina that increases the risk of a second detached retina
  • Bleeding in the eye
  • Infection
  • Cataracts
  • Double vision
  • Choroid detachment
  • Increased nearsightedness
  • Increased eye pressure
  • New retinal tears

Vitrectomy

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This procedure may be done alone or with scleral buckling. It drains eye fluid and then replaces it.

Preparation

For about eight hours before the procedure, patients are usually asked to fast. They should plan to have someone drive them home and have some help so they can rest for the day.

People who take certain medications may need to temporarily stop them before this procedure. The doctor will do an eye examination before surgery to determine the current state of the retinal detachment.

Procedure

This procedure starts off by numbing, dilating, and cleaning the eye. The surgeon will then remove the vitreous to alleviate the tugging on the retina that caused the detachment. If there is any surrounding tissue still tugging, this is also removed.

Gas, silicone oil, or air is then injected into the space to flatten the retina. These will eventually absorb the natural fluid and fill the space. Surgical removal of silicone oil may be necessary months after surgery.

Recovery

Most people return home the same day. Any medications should be taken exactly as indicated. Any abnormal symptoms, such as increasing pain, should be reported to the doctor right away.

The following are possible vitrectomy risks:

  • Infection
  • Secondary retinal detachment
  • Increased cataract formation rate
  • Refractive error changes
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Lens damage
  • Increased eye pressure
  • Eye movement issues

Due to the seriousness of a detached retina, seek treatment as soon as possible. Patients will work with their doctor to determine which surgical option is best for the repair.

Success Rates of Detached Retina Surgery

Overall, detached retina surgery has a high success rate of over 90 percent.

One study compared success rates among the different surgery types, and there was no statistical difference in the one-year outcomes between the groups. The initial success rate was lowest for pneumatic retinopexy at 63 percent and highest for a combination of scleral buckling and vitrectomy, at 94 percent, but again, the one-year outcomes were similar for all procedures.

How to Support Recovery

Detached retina surgery carries the same risks as any surgery, and some recovery time is to be expected. You can best support recovery via these methods:

  • Rest. While you can usually return to normal activities within a couple weeks of surgery, it’s important to allow your body to rest. Take it easy for a week or two.
  • Cover your eye. Your eye surgeon may advise you to wear an eye patch for a few days or weeks. You may be advised to wear it during sleep for longer.
  • Avoid rubbing your eye. While it heals, you need to avoid aggravating the area.
  • Do not lift anything heavy. The strain can put pressure on your eye.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions. Your doctor may provide antibiotic or other eye drops. Apply them according to their instructions, and follow any other guidelines given following the surgery.

Detached Retina Surgery FAQ

  • How long does recovery take?

    Depending on the type of surgery, recovery will take two to six weeks.
  • Is it painful?

    You may feel some pain and discomfort for a few days following surgery. If the pain is severe or worsens, contact your doctor immediately.

  • When can I resume normal activities after detached retina surgery?

    You can resume most normal activities within one to two weeks. Talk to your doctor about anything strenuous, like heavy lifting or air travel. You should avoid exercise and anything that taxes your eyes for the first two weeks.

  • When can I drive again?

    You can usually resume driving one to two weeks after surgery.

  • Will I need to wear glasses following surgery?

    Your glasses prescription will likely change after detached retina surgery. Wait a month or so for your eyes to stabilize before getting new glasses.

References

Pneumatic Retinopexy for Retinal Detachment. University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Surgery for Retinal Detachment: What to Expect at Home. Government of Alberta.

Detached or Torn Retina. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Retinal Cryopexy. Encyclopedia of Surgery.

Pneumatic Retinopexy. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Scleral Buckling. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Vitrectomy. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Primary Retinal Detachment Repair: Comparison of 1-Year Outcomes of Four Surgical Techniques. (September 2011). Retina.

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