Diabetic Vitrectomy: What It Is and How It Improves Your Vision

If you have diabetes, you might feel concerned about your vision. Your doctor has probably told you to keep your eyes healthy the same way you care for the rest of your body: exercise, diet, proper blood sugar levels, and good blood pressure.

However, even if you have excellent health habits, diabetes can sometimes lead to trouble with your vision. If you develop vision problems, your eye specialist will work with you to find an effective treatment. The right treatment will slow vision loss and help you see better.

A diabetic vitrectomy is one treatment your eye doctor can recommend for diabetes-related vision loss.

What Is a Diabetic Vitrectomy?

When you have diabetes, the blood vessels in your eyes can change or grow irregularly. These vessels then swell and leak fluid and blood into your vitreous. Vitreous is the jelly-like substance filling your eyes.

When this happens, the fluid blocks light from properly reaching your retina. If light can’t reach your retina, you can’t see clearly.

A diabetic vitrectomy is a surgical treatment for problems with your vitreous. Eye specialists perform vitrectomies for issues such as injuries and infections. For people with diabetes, vitrectomies help restore vision loss due to these abnormal blood vessels.

When Do I Need a Diabetic Vitrectomy?

Leaky blood vessels in your vitreous don’t appear overnight. They are usually a result of diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common problem with diabetes. It happens when high blood sugar damages the blood vessels in your eyes. Sometimes it closes the vessels off completely.

Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease for people with diabetes. Many people with diabetes develop signs of this disease at some point, particularly those with type 1 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy usually presents in both eyes, and it can be hard to catch early.

If you develop diabetic retinopathy, your eye doctor will classify it as either early or advanced.

Early Diabetic Retinopathy

This stage of the disease is also called nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy. Your blood vessels are not growing irregularly, but they do have weak walls. With weak walls, tiny aneurysms, called microaneurysms, form and seep blood and fluid.

Your eye doctor might also say you have macular edema. The macula is an oval spot in the very center of your retina. Diabetic retinopathy can cause it to swell. You shouldn’t have any pain with macular edema, but it can cause blurred vision.

Advanced Diabetic Retinopathy

The advanced stage of this disease is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. At this point, blood vessels begin to grow into your retina and leak into your vitreous. Your doctor might recommend a diabetic vitrectomy at this stage.

What Does a Diabetic Vitrectomy Involve?

During a diabetic vitrectomy, your doctor will remove the affected vitreous in your eye so light can get through to your retina. This surgery is performed using a microscope and tiny tools.

During the surgery, your doctor can use a laser to clear out abnormal blood vessels and prevent them from continuing to leak. Your doctor can also remove scar tissue, which pulls on your retina and worsens your vision if left untreated.

If scar tissue has displaced your retina, your doctor might insert a tiny gas bubble to keep your retina in place while it heals. In this case, you’ll need to keep your head in special positions for some time after the surgery to make sure the bubble works properly.

Will I Have to Stay in the Hospital?

Diabetic vitrectomies are usually done on an outpatient basis. This means most patients get to go home after the procedure without having to worry about a long hospital stay. However, your doctor might want to keep you overnight for observation.

How Will I Be Sedated?

Your doctor will help you decide whether general or local anesthesia will work best for you during the procedure.

What Are the Possible Complications of a Diabetic Vitrectomy?

While every surgery comes with risks, you don’t have to worry too much about a diabetic vitrectomy. It’s not considered especially dangerous.

As with any surgery, you can get an infection or some bleeding after a diabetic vitrectomy. You might also experience increased pressure in your eyes. This should go away on its own. However, it can lead to glaucoma if it continues, so your doctor will monitor you closely.

You might also have an increased risk of cataracts after a diabetic vitrectomy. However, the benefits still outweigh the risks.

Is a Diabetic Vitrectomy a Cure?

A diabetic vitrectomy cannot cure your diabetic retinopathy. It also cannot completely prevent vision loss. However, you should be able to see better after the procedure, which will increase your quality of life and make it easier for you to get around every day.

Good health habits and regular appointments with your eye doctor are the best way to prevent vision loss from diabetes. If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced diabetic retinopathy, talk to your eye specialist about whether a diabetic vitrectomy is the right treatment for you.