Cryopexy for Retinal Tears: A Complete Guide

Medically Reviewed By Leela Raju, MD

Cryopexy is a noninvasive treatment for a retinal tear or detachment that involves freezing the retina into place. The procedure helps protect the retina from further damage, reducing the risk of vision loss. The eye’s retina captures light and helps produce vision. Treatment for retinal tears or detachment is essential because the damage they cause can lead to vision loss.

Cryopexy, or cryotherapy, uses extreme cold to fix a torn or detached retina and to seal it to the eye’s wall, preventing further damage.

Read more about how cryopexy works, including its procedure, recovery, effectiveness, and risks.

How cryopexy works

A sheet of ice with daisy flowers frozen inside.
Sveta SH/Stocksy United

A retinal tear is when the retina develops a rip or hole.

With cryopexy, eye doctors form a scar around the retinal tear by freezing the tissue Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source . The procedure secures the retina to the eye’s wall and stops fluid from entering through the tear, which could cause retinal detachment.

Retinal detachment is a severe condition in which the retina is pulled away Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source from its correct position. It is a medical emergency as it can lead to permanent vision loss.

Learn more about retinal detachment symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Sometimes, eye surgeons perform cryopexy as part of a vitrectomy surgery. Vitrectomy surgery is used to treat other retina and eye conditions, including some cases of retinal detachment.

Read more about vitrectomy, including its uses and procedure.

Other treatment options for retinal tears include photocoagulation. Photocoagulation uses a laser rather than a freeze treatment to seal the retina to the eye’s wall.

Preparation

Your medical team will give you personalized advice on preparing for a cryopexy procedure. This may include:

  • reviewing with your medical team medications or supplements you take and stopping them temporarily
  • not wearing eye makeup on the day of the procedure
  • arranging for someone to get you home and helping you during the first few days of recovery

Procedure

Cryopexy is an outpatient procedure and may be done in your eye surgeon’s office. The method may be performed in the following steps:

  • A clinician will talk you through the procedure and ask if you have any questions. You may also fill out any remaining forms at this point.
  • Before the procedure begins, your surgeon will administer an anesthetic solution to numb the eye’s surface.
  • To freeze the torn retina, the surgeon will place a tool called a freezing probe to the white of the eye closest to the tear. You may feel pressure or coldness during this time.

Cryopexy usually takes less than 30 minutes.

Recovery

Your medical team will provide personalized advice for your recovery after cryopexy. Sometimes, people must wear a medical eye shield during recovery. Also, your doctors may give you medicated eye drops to help prevent swelling.

You will need to rest and avoid exercise, heavy lifting, and driving. Your doctors will tell you when you can stop wearing the eye shield and resume your usual activities.

Experiencing some pain for a few hours after the procedure is common. Your doctor can recommend over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications to soothe discomfort.

Some people experience temporary side effects, such as:

Contact an eye doctor if you experience any new, concerning, or persistent symptoms.

Effectiveness

Experts say cryopexy is safe, effective, and helps resolve symptoms and prevent further damage. However, in some cases, you may need further treatment.

In a 2022 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , participants reported more pain after cryopexy than photocoagulation. Results also stated that participants found recovery from photocoagulation easier than cryopexy.

On the other hand, some people preferred cryopexy due to a shorter procedure time and a feeling that it was less invasive.

Your medical team can advise on treatment and help improve your recovery experience.

Risks and complications

As with any procedure, cryopexy can have risks and complications, such as:

For the best outcome, follow your medical team’s recommendations for care and keep your checkup appointments.

FAQ

Leela Raju, MD, has also reviewed the answers to the following frequently asked questions.

Is cryopexy painful?

You shouldn’t feel much pain during cryopexy because doctors provide a local anesthesia, but you may feel pressure or coldness. If you do feel pain, tell your surgeon.

Some people may feel pain for a few days after the procedure.

Is cryopexy risky?

Experts say cryopexy can be safe and effective, but risks are still possible, such as:

  • not resolving the retinal tear
  • damage or bleeding
  • infection

Is cryopexy better than laser retinopexy?

Whether cryopexy is better than laser retinopexy or photocoagulation can vary per person, and everyone may have different experiences.

Your medical team can work with you to recommend the most suitable procedure for you.

What is the difference between cryopexy and photocoagulation?

Both cryopexy and photocoagulation use controlled, deliberate damage to the eye to secure the retina to the eye’s wall.

While cryopexy uses very cold temperatures to freeze the affected tissue, photocoagulation uses a laser to burn the affected tissue. This may sound intimidating, but both techniques can protect the retina.

Summary

Cryopexy is a procedure to treat retinal tears or detachment. It uses cold temperatures produced by a freezing probe to secure the retina to the eye’s wall and to prevent further damage.

The procedure for cryopexy can be quick, although you typically need to spend a few weeks recovering. You may need to avoid driving and exercise temporarily. Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations.

While cryopexy should not be painful, you may experience some discomfort during and after the procedure.

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Medical Reviewer: Leela Raju, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Feb 20
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