Retinal laser treatment uses lasers that produce a pure, high-intensity beam of light energy. In ophthalmology, lasers are used to photocoagulate, cut, remove, shrink, and stretch ocular tissues. New types of lasers and novel applications continue to be developed. Lasers were first used to treat eye disease in the early 1970s and have become the standard of care for previously untreatable disorders. For many patients, laser can preserve or prevent vision loss if given in a timely fashion.
The advantage of using lasers to treat retinal disorders is that they can be 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.
Your eye will almost always look and feel normal with retinal diseases, even when there is haemorrhaging and leakage in the back of your eye. Your sight may also be normal for a while despite the presence of potentially blinding eye problems.
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.
Lasers are commonly used to treat the following eye conditions:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Retinal vein occlusions
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Retinal detachment
- Central serous chorioretinopathy (CSC) – CSC consists of one or more “blisters” of fluid (serous detachment) beneath the macula. It can cause central blurriness, distortion, abnormal colour vision, blind spots, and temporary farsightedness. Although the vast majority of cases will resolve spontaneously, laser photocoagulation is sometimes necessary for persistent lesions.
- Ocular tumors – Some patients will have non-cancerous leaking vascular tumors that can cause the retina to swell and not function properly. Laser surgery can destroy these tumors and allow the swelling to go away.
There are no special preparations before eye laser treatment. You should eat normally and take your regularly prescribed medications before surgery.
Eye drops will be given to dilate the pupil and numb the eye. The treatment is performed while you are seated in a chair, similar to the one used for regular eye examinations. You will remain awake and comfortable. Treatment is usually painless, although some patients may require a numbing injection for discomfort or sensitivity to the laser light.
The laser treatment usually takes less than 30 minutes to complete, and you can go home immediately following surgery. Arrangements for transportation should be made in advance since you may not be able to drive right away.
You should be able to resume your normal activities and work schedule the following day.
Most patients notice no vision changes following their laser surgery, although there may be some temporary blurring for several weeks to months. In addition, depending on the condition being treated, some may notice a permanent blind spot or decrease in peripheral and night vision.
It will take several weeks to months before we can tell whether the laser surgery has been successful. Many patients, however, will need more than one treatment to control their eye problem and prevent further loss of vision.