Retinal Laser Treatment
FAQ & Post-Procedure Instructions
What is retinal laser procedure?
A retinal laser is a concentrated, high-energy beam of light that passes through the cornea and lens (non-retinal tissue) without damaging them, focusing very precisely on diseased tissue in the back (posterior segment) of the eye. These types of lasers are different from those used in refractive surgery, such as LASIK or PRK.
Retinal laser photocoagulation is an in-office procedure used to treat several retinal conditions, including retinal tears, diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, and retinal vein occlusion. It is most frequently used to seal a retinal tear to prevent development of a retinal detachment. A retinal laser is also used to treat conditions involving abnormal blood vessels to prevent further retinal damage and preserve sight.
How to prepare for laser treatment
• Because your eye(s) will be dilated, you may want to arrange for someone to drive you home.
• Take your previously prescribed eye drops, supplements, and medications as usual.
• You can eat and drink as usual before treatment. No need to fast.
• Bring a dark pair of UV-blocking sunglasses to wear after treatment.
How a laser treats an ocular condition
The laser works by creating small areas of scar tissue that can seal off a tear or leaking blood vessels. It can also slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels (neovascularization) in the eye. The procedure cannot restore vision that is already lost, but it can significantly reduce your risk of experiencing future vision loss.
What to expect during treatment
This is a non-invasive medical procedure performed in the comfort of our office. During this procedure you will be awake. To begin, your doctor or technician will typically administer medicated eye drops to dilate your pupils, allowing for a better view of the retina. Dilation takes approximately 20-30 minutes.
Topical anesthetic (numbing drops) is then placed in the eye to minimize discomfort during the procedure. If a microscope is used, specialized contact lenses will be placed on the eye to hold the eyelids open and visualize the areas indicated for treatment. In many cases, you will be positioned so you're lying flat in a reclined position. The laser will be focused on the retina to deliver the specific type of treatment required.
During the laser procedure you will see bright green flashes of light and you may experience mild discomfort. Most patients’ find the bright lights are more uncomfortable than the actual energy from the laser. You may see hues of pink and purple. It may feel like you walked out of a dark movie theater into a very sunny day. Sometimes patients will feel slight pressure on the eyelids as the physician highlights critical areas for treatment.
Length of the treatment varies but is usually completed in under 30 minutes. Please tell your doctor if you need a break during your treatment. Rarely, patients do not tolerate treatment in clinic and the procedure is rescheduled in the operating room so the patient can be placed under anesthesia.
What to expect post-treatment
Your vision may be blanched out (dark) for a few minutes after the procedure and you may see various colors in the pink/red spectrum. It is normal to experience blurred vision immediately after and up to a few hours post-procedure. Your eyes will be light sensitive for up to 4-6 hours due to dilation. Some patients may remain dilated for up to 24 hours, depending on the variable sensitivities to dilation drops. Sunglasses are recommended, especially outdoors. You may experience aching inside or around the eye, itching, teary or watery eyes, and/or hazy vision. Symptoms should resolve themselves within the next few days and recovery is accelerated by using over-the-counter artificial tears to lubricate the treated eye(s).
Usually, it takes 1-2 weeks for the laser to mature. During this time, your doctor may advise a brief period of limited activity before resuming your normal activities.
If you experience pain or discomfort post-procedure, take an over-the-counter pain medication, as instructed by your doctor, and administer ample artificial tears. Be sure to refrain from rubbing your eyes after the procedure. Typically, contact lenses can be safely worn the day following the procedure. In most cases, you can return to work the next day.
You will be asked to return for a follow-up visit with your physician to ensure your eyes are healing correctly and no infection is present. Your doctor will let you know when you need to return based on your condition.
Will I need more than one laser treatment?
That depends. Sometimes it can take weeks to months before your physician can determine how successful your laser treatment has been. Many patients do require more than one treatment to manage their eye condition and to prevent further deterioration of their vision.
When to call our office
Symptoms should gradually improve in the weeks following treatment. Generally, treatment for retinal tears will not result in more rapid resolution of symptomatic floaters or flashes noted before treatment as the purpose of laser is to precent vision loss from a detached retina. If at any time you have a sudden burst of new or worsening floaters or flashing lights, sudden decrease or change in vision clarity, experience peripheral shadows, resembling a curtain or veil, signs of an eye infection, or any pain or discomfort not alleviated with OTC pain medication or artificial tears, please call our office immediately at 303-261-1600 x2100 - follow the prompts to leave a message for ‘triage’. Someone will call you back shortly. For ocular emergencies, we have a Colorado Retina surgeon on-call afterhours, weekends, and holidays.