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Retinal Laser Therapy

What is Retinal Laser Therapy?

Retinal laser therapy or focal laser photocoagulation is a procedure performed to preserve the health of the retina, the photosensitive layer in the back of the eye. It can treat conditions such as macular edema and breaks or tears in the retina which can lead to loss of vision.

What is Macular Edema?

Macular edema is a condition in which a part of the retina called the macula which is important for central vision becomes inflamed and swollen as the blood vessels supplying the retina become diseased and leaky. This can be due to a complication of diabetes called diabetic retinopathy and can cause blurriness and loss of vision. Retinal laser therapy stops the leakage from the blood vessels to control edema.

What are Retinal Tears?

Tears in the retina may occur due to eye injury, severe near-sightedness, diabetes, or aging. It can lead to detachment of the retina from the underlying layers of the eyewall causing vision loss. Laser energy focused on regions of the damaged retina causes an inflammatory reaction that helps repair retinal tears.

Other conditions treated by retinal laser therapy include retinal vein occlusions, ocular tumors, and central serous chorioretinopathy, a condition in which a blister develops beneath the macula. 

Preparation for Retinal Laser Therapy

Prior to the procedure, your doctor will perform a detailed eye examination. Special testing such as an OCT may be performed to examine the retina. To prepare for the procedure:

  • Inform your doctor about any routine medications.
  • Do not wear contact lenses on the day of the procedure.
  • Avoid wearing any eye makeup or face cream.
  • Arrange for someone to drive you home.

Procedure for Retinal Laser Therapy 

Retinal laser therapy is an outpatient procedure. You may receive a sedative to keep you calm. After examining your eye, special drops are used to numb the eye and dilate the pupil. A special contact lens is placed over the eye to control eye movement and help direct the laser beam. The laser is directed at the diseased blood vessel or retinal tear causing heat and coagulation which seals up these structures. The procedure usually takes about 30 minutes following which you can usually go home. Depending on the severity of the condition you may require more than one treatment.

Postoperative Care following Retinal Laser Therapy

You may experience slight discomfort following the procedure but notify your doctor if you have significant eye pain. Your vision will be blurry for a while and you will need to use sunglasses. You will receive medications as well as for instructions on diet and lifestyle adjustments necessary for a good recovery. Normal activities can be resumed the next day but avoid strenuous movements for at least two weeks. Remember to keep all your follow up appointments. Inform your doctor if you notice any complications or allergies. If you have diabetes, you should keep it well controlled to prevent further retinal damage.

Risks and Complications of Retinal Laser Therapy 

As with any surgical procedure, retinal laser therapy has potential risks and complications which may occur while the procedure is being performed or after. These include:

  • Adverse reaction to the sedative medication
  • Eye pain
  • Change in vision
  • Mild or severe vision loss which is rare
  • Recurrence of the retinal tear

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