Vitrectomy Surgery: A Complete Guide

Medically Reviewed By Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA

Vitrectomy is eye surgery to treat conditions affecting the retina and vitreous. The retina captures light and helps produce vision. The vitreous is a gel-like fluid that fills the eye. Vitrectomy involves making a small cut to the eye. Vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery that involves making a small cut to the white of the eye. This allows surgeons to access affected areas of the retina and vitreous, and make repairs such as:

  • removing scar tissue, blood, or other fluids
  • removing foreign objects in the eye due to injury
  • fixing retinal detachment, when the retina is pulled away from the eye wall

As a result, vitrectomy surgery can help undo or prevent further vision loss.

Read on for more about the uses, procedure, effectiveness, and risks of vitrectomy.

What is a vitrectomy for?

A blurry view of a highway at night with city lights in the background.
Chelsea Victoria/Stocksy United

A vitrectomy may be used to treat conditions such as:

How do you prepare for a vitrectomy?

Your medical team will tell you how to prepare for vitrectomy surgery. Preparation steps may include:

  • letting your doctors know what medications and supplements you take; you may need to temporarily stop certain ones
  • arranging for people to help you get home and during the first few days of recovery
  • not eating or drinking certain foods before surgery, or avoiding eating altogether from the day before your surgery
  • not wearing eye makeup on the day of the surgery
  • taking necessary identification with you

What happens during a vitrectomy?

Medical illustration of vitrectomy procedure by Jason Hoffman

The exact procedure can depend on the underlying condition.

Generally, a vitrectomy includes the following steps:

  1. Doctors give you local or general anesthesia to prevent pain during the procedure.
  2. The eye surgeon makes a small cut to the white of the eye or uses a special blade that allows tools to enter.
  3. Using a microscope and light to see the inside of your eye, the surgeon removes the vitreous from the eye with a vitrector tool.
  4. Depending on the condition, the surgeon may:
    • remove scar tissue, blood, fluids, or foreign objects
    • return the retina to its correct position
    • use a laser or freeze treatment to fix a torn retina
  5. Sometimes, the surgeon places a bubble in the eye to help the retina stay in its correct position. This bubble may be made of air, gas, or silicone oil. Air and gas bubbles eventually go away on their own. Silicone oil bubbles need to be removed later with a second surgery.

Some vitrectomy surgeries take 1 hour. Others take up to several hours.

If you need vitrectomy surgery for both eyes, surgeons will treat Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source one eye at a time. Surgery for the second eye can take place after recovery from the first surgery.

Typically, a vitrectomy is an outpatient procedure, meaning you will not stay overnight. However, you will stay in the surgeon’s clinic for monitoring while you recover from the anesthesia.

You will not be allowed to drive and may need help getting home. Be sure to have travel arrangements.

Talk with your medical team before your procedure if you have any questions. They can also discuss anesthesia options, and whether general or local anesthetic may be best for you.

What is recovery like after a vitrectomy?

In most cases Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source , people go home the same day of the procedure.

Pain after a vitrectomy is rare but can occur. You may also experience:

  • feelings of grittiness, sandiness, or scratching in the eye
  • swelling
  • eye redness
  • blurrier vision

While you recover, you may also need to:

  • use medicated eye drops to relieve discomfort, prevent infection, or support healing
  • wear an eye patch, often for about 1 day
  • take a few weeks off work
  • avoid certain activities, such as:
    • driving
    • exercise
    • heavy lifting

Your doctor will let you know when you can resume your usual activities.

If your surgeon placed a bubble

If your surgeon placed a bubble in the eye, you may need to stay in a facedown or side-facing position for a set time. This could be a few days to a few weeks.

Until the bubble is gone, you cannot:

  • fly in a plane
  • go to the mountains
  • do other activities involving changes in altitude or pressure, such as scuba diving

Following your doctors’ recommendations is essential for helping the eye heal properly.

How effective is a vitrectomy?

The outlook following a vitrectomy varies and may depend on the severity of the condition.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a vitrectomy often improves vision or prevents it from getting worse. This means that a vitrectomy can sometimes reverse Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source vision loss.

A 2023 study looked at the effectiveness of a vitrectomy with an air bubble for a type of retinal detachment. After checking in with participants 3 months after the surgery, researchers found that vitrectomy surgery was successful in 97.9% Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source of cases.

Still, each person may respond to a vitrectomy differently. As with any procedure, there is some risk of complications.

For personalized advice about outlook and what to expect, talk with your medical team.

Are there any risks to a vitrectomy?

Possible risks or complications of a vitrectomy include:

  • infection
  • bleeding
  • further eye damage, such as tearing or detaching the retina
  • glaucoma
  • cataract, which may be more likely in people older than 50

In some cases, complications may worsen Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source vision or cause blindness. However, the overall level of risk of a vitrectomy is low.

Contact your eye doctor promptly if you notice new, persistent, or concerning symptoms after vitrectomy surgery. Also talk with your doctor if you have questions about potential risks.

Learn more about signs you should see an eye doctor.

How much does a vitrectomy cost?

The cost of a vitrectomy can vary widely, depending on factors such as:

  • your state and city
  • your surgeon
  • the exact procedure and aftercare you need
  • whether you experience complications

A 2021 study found that the average cost of a routine vitrectomy surgery was $7,169.79 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . Researchers noted that this was more than the maximum amount Medicare covered at that time.

Talk with your doctor if you have questions about the cost or need support with payment. They may recommend local services that help with treatment costs or access to insurance.

Summary

A vitrectomy is an eye surgery to improve or prevent vision loss from conditions affecting the eye’s retina or vitreous. Vitrectomy involves making an incision in the eye and removing damage. Sometimes, the surgeon places a bubble to keep the retina in place.

Talk with your doctor if you have questions about vitrectomy surgery. Also, contact an eye doctor if you experience new or worsening symptoms after the procedure.

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Medical Reviewer: Vicente Diaz, MD, MBA
Last Review Date: 2024 Jan 31
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