A vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery. An eye doctor may recommend it to treat advanced diabetic retinopathy. The surgery involves removing blood and scar tissue in the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy is a potential complication of diabetes. It occurs when high sugar levels in the blood damage the delicate blood vessels in the retina of the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy can lead to a variety of symptoms, including blurry vision, difficulty seeing colors, and eye floaters. Without treatment, it can result in vision loss.

A vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery. It involves the removal and replacement of the vitreous humor, which is a gel-like substance present in the eye. This helps remove any blood and scar tissue that may be present due to damage in the eye from the advanced stages of diabetic retinopathy.

In this article, we discuss vitrectomy, including whether it can treat diabetic retinopathy and the recovery period after surgery.

An ophthalmologist performing an eye exam.Share on Pinterest
Westend61/Getty Images

Vitrectomy is a type of vitreoretinal surgery. This term refers to different surgical procedures that treat eye problems that involve the retina, macula, and vitreous fluid of the eye.

An eye doctor may recommend treating diabetic retinopathy using a vitrectomy. Vision problems typically occur due to pulling, bleeding, or scar tissue impacting the retina or vitreous gel.

In the most advanced stage of diabetic retinopathy, known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy, abnormal blood vessels develop within the oxygen-depleted retina. These blood vessels can affect vision by leaking into the vitreous humor and forming scar tissue, which may displace or tear the retina.

Therefore, a doctor may suggest a vitrectomy to remove blood and scar tissue from the eye and replace the fluid to correctly hold the retina in place.

A 2020 case series study notes that vitrectomy is an effective and safe treatment option for proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Another 2020 study also suggests a generally positive long-term outcome for people who received vitrectomy to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Click here to learn more about the importance of diabetic eye screening.

Before a vitrectomy, a doctor will advise whether a person needs to stop taking certain medications and stop eating before the surgery. They will also discuss anesthesia options.

A doctor may also examine the retina using special instruments, such as an ultrasound.

Surgery for a diabetic vitrectomy normally takes 1–2 hours. However, it may take longer depending on the complexity of the case.

To begin the vitrectomy procedure, an eye surgeon will first use eye drops and inject local anesthetic around the eye to ensure a person does not feel pain during the surgery. The injections are painless. General anesthesia is performed far less frequently.

They will then make small openings in the eye wall and remove most of the vitreous humor using an automated instrument. The eye surgeon will then reattach or repair the retina if necessary, then replace the vitreous fluid to restore volume to the eye and hold the retina in place.

If a person requires a vitrectomy in both eyes, a surgeon will only perform surgery one eye at a time. They will typically schedule surgery for the second eye after recovery from the first procedure.

A 2016 study notes that vitrectomy is a safe procedure and improves most complications that occur from diabetic retinopathy.

Possible side effects from a vitrectomy may include:

  • developing a cataract
  • further bleeding in the eye
  • retinal detachment
  • fluid buildup in the cornea
  • eye infection

A person is typically able to go home on the same day or the day after a vitrectomy.

After the operation, vision may initially be blurry, but this should improve gradually. However, it may take several months for vision to fully return to normal. The surgeon can advise whether a person needs to avoid any activities during their recovery.

A doctor may provide eye drops and pain relief medication to help ease the healing process. To further encourage a good recovery, a doctor may also recommend:

  • wearing an eye shield
  • lying down in a particular position
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • eating a nutritious, balanced diet

Other treatment options for diabetic retinopathy may include injections and laser treatment.

A doctor may use medication known as anti-VEGF drugs to slow down or reverse diabetic retinopathy. These drugs stop the body from producing a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Too much of this protein can cause blood vessels to grow abnormally and cause them to leak.

A doctor may also use lasers to treat diabetic retinopathy. This typically involves a type of laser treatment known as scatter laser surgery. A doctor will apply laser spots to slow the growth of the abnormal vessels and to reduce retinal swelling by stopping them from leaking.

Diabetic retinopathy is a potential complication of diabetes that may impair vision. It occurs from high blood glucose levels causing damage to blood vessels in the eye.

Vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery that removes blood and scar tissue in the eye and replaces the fluid to hold the retina in place.

A vitrectomy is a safe and effective option for advanced diabetic retinopathy.