Retinal detachment happens when your retina (a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of your eye) is pulled away from its normal position. Retinal detachment is a medical emergency, and early treatment is important to protect your vision.

If you have a retinal detachment, you may need surgery to reattach your retina to the back of your eye within a few days. After surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for a short time — and it might take a few weeks before your vision starts getting better.

There are 3 types of surgery that doctors can do to fix a detached retina:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy (“noo-mat-ick RET-ih-no-pek-see”)
  • Scleral buckle
  • Vitrectomy

The type of surgery you need will depend on several things, including how much of your retina is detached and where in your eye it detached. Your doctor will talk to you about what type they recommend, and about the risks and benefits of surgery. Some people may need more than one type of surgery at once.

During the surgery, your doctor may also use laser or freeze treatments to repair tears or holes in your retina and help hold your retina in place after surgery.

What is pneumatic retinopexy?

In pneumatic retinopexy, your doctor will inject a small air bubble into your eye. The bubble will push your retina back into place so your doctor can use a laser or freeze treatment to repair any holes or tears. You can usually get this surgery in your doctor’s office.

When you get this surgery, your doctor will:

  • Put numbing medicine in your eye
  • Insert a tiny needle into your eye and remove a small amount of fluid
  • Inject a small amount of air into your eye
  • Use laser or freeze treatment to repair any holes or tears in your retina

You’ll be able to see the air bubble in your peripheral (side) vision after the surgery. The bubble will disappear on its own over time.

After the surgery, you’ll need to:

  • Hold your head in a certain position for several days to keep the air bubble in the right spot
  • Avoid some activities — like flying in an airplane, intense exercise, and heavy lifting — while your eye heals
  • Have a follow-up visit with your doctor to make sure your eye is healing

Tell your doctor if you have any questions or concerns after surgery, including if your vision seems worse or if you have a lot of pain or swelling.

What is scleral buckle surgery?

During scleral buckle surgery, your doctor will put a tiny, flexible band around the white part of your eye. This part of the eye is called the sclera.

The band pushes gently on the sides of your eye and moves them inward toward your retina, which helps your retina reattach. The band will stay on your eye permanently after the surgery. Your doctor may also use a laser or freeze treatment to repair any tears in your retina.

Usually, you’ll get anesthesia so you’ll be asleep during this surgery. You won’t feel anything or remember the surgery. Most people can go home the same day, but you’ll need someone to drive you home.

After the surgery, your eye may feel a little sore. You’ll need to:

  • Wear a patch over your eye for about a day
  • Avoid some activities — like heavy lifting or heavy exercise — while your eye heals
  • Have a follow-up visit with your doctor to make sure your eye is healing

Tell your doctor if you have any questions or concerns after surgery, including if your vision seems worse or if you have a lot of pain or swelling.

What is vitrectomy?

Vitrectomy is similar to pneumatic retinopexy, but it’s a longer surgery and usually happens in a hospital instead of your doctor’s office.

Last updated: December 23, 2020