Understanding Retinal Laser Surgery

Retinal laser surgery, first used in the 1970s, has become the standard of care for many eye diseases. The laser is an instrument that produces a high-intensity beam of light, which can be precisely focused onto the retina, selectively treating the desired area while leaving the surrounding tissues untouched. The absorbed energy creates a microscopic spot to destroy lesions or weld tissues together.

The only way to tell if you need laser surgery is to have a careful, dilated retinal examination, often followed by special testing including OCT scanning and fluorescein angiography (a photographic test that evaluates the eye’s circulation).

Conditions that can be treated by laser include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy, where the laser seals leaky blood vessels, or removes new blood vessels that are leaking or causing scarring
  • Retinal vein occlusions, where the laser reduces swelling caused by blocked blood vessels, or removes new vessels causing high pressure in the eye
  • Retinal breaks and detachments, where the retina is welded to the underlying eye wall
  • Central serous “blisters” of fluid beneath the macula, where the laser is used to remove persistent lesions
  • Ocular tumors, where the laser destroys non-cancerous leaking vascular tumors that can cause the retina to swell

What to Expect

Laser surgery is performed in the office while you remain awake and comfortable. It usually takes less than 30 minutes, and is usually painless. It can often preserve vision or prevent vision loss if done in a timely fashion, but many patients need more than one treatment to control their eye problem and prevent further loss of vision.