Understanding Vitrectomy

Vitrectomy is the surgical removal of the vitreous gel from the middle of the eye. It may be done when there is a retinal detachment, because removing the vitreous gel gives your ophthalmologist better access to the back of the eye. The vitreous gel may also be removed if blood in the vitreous gel does not clear on its own.

During a vitrectomy, the surgeon inserts small instruments into the eye, cuts the vitreous gel, and suctions it out. After removing the vitreous gel, the surgeon may treat the retina with a laser, cut or remove fibrous or scar tissue from the retina, flatten areas where the retina has become detached, or repair tears or holes in the retina or macula. At the end of the surgery, silicone oil or a gas is injected into the eye to replace the vitreous gel and restore normal pressure in the eye.

A vitrectomy may be done to:

  • Repair or prevent retinal detachment, especially when it threatens to affect the macula
  • Repair very large tears in the retina
  • Reduce vision loss caused by bleeding in the vitreous gel, when bleeding is severe, or when the blood does not clear on its own after several months
  • Treat severe proliferative retinopathy that causes severe scar tissue formation or when growth of new blood vessels on the retina continues despite repeated laser treatment
  • Peel a membrane or close a hole in the macula

What to Expect

Vitrectomy is usually done as outpatient surgery. The surgery lasts 1 to 2 hours. Your eye doctor will determine if the surgery can be done with local or general anesthesia.

You may need to position yourself in a certain way at home for a while. Your doctor will tell you what position to lie in so that the gas or oil can push against the retina.