Retinal breaks

What is a retinal break?

The retina is a thin layer of light sensitive cells lie at the back of the eye. It is attached to the jelly in the eye – called the vitreous. As we get older the vitreous gel detaches from the retina and falls forward, as it does this it can pull on the retina. As the retina is pulled many patients experience flashing lights, particularly at night. If there is a weakness in the retinal, a break or tear can occur. Without treatment retinal breaks can cause retinal detachments and vision can be permanently lost.

How is a break treated?

A special laser is used to seal up the retinal tear. It heats the blood in the surrounding healthy laser and ‘spot welds’ the break to underlying tissues thus preventing a retinal detachment. This is known as laser retinopexy.

What happens during treatment?

The treatment can take place in theatre or in a hospital outpatients department.
First the pupils are dilated with drops, this takes about 20 minutes. Then an anaesthetic drop is put in the eye or local anaesthetic is injected. A contact lens is used to focus the laser onto the retina. A series of laser spots is used to seal the retina in place. A patient will see bright flashes of light which sometimes cause discomfort.

What happens after treatment?

Immediately after the laser the eye will be blurry due to the drops and dazzled by the laser light. Vision will be misty for a few hours but should be back to normal by the next day. A patient should not drive on the day of  the laser treatment. A patient may need an eye pad if local anaesthetic has been used.

Can the retina detach after laser treatment?

Laser treatment reduces the risk of retinal detachment but it does not eliminate it completely. If a patient notices more flashes and floaters or a dark shadow they should seek help immediately.

Are there any risks to laser retinopexy?

Laser treatment is generally safe, however there is a risk that the retina can bleed or develop central scar tissue that distorts vision. Some patients may need to change their glasses following surgery.