Many people having laser treatment have very little visual impairment. Others who may have early or moderate maculopathy and proliferative retinopathy will also benefit from laser treatment.
Laser treatment has revolutionised retinopathy treatment. Together with effective screening, good blood glucose control and good blood pressure, it can successfully maintain vision though it usually takes about three to four months before the results of treatment become apparent.
How does it work?
Tiny laser burns allow more oxygen and nutrients to reach the retina, which improves the blood circulation. This signals that there is no need for 'new vessels' to be produced.
You may need more than one treatment as the vessels may start growing again.
What’s the procedure?
- You have local anaesthetic and pupil-dilating eye drops put in your eye.
- The laser beam is directed onto the abnormal parts of the retina.
- Small bursts of tiny beams of laser light then seal leaky blood vessels and destroy abnormal new blood vessels in the retina.
An eye specialist (opthalmologist) carries out laser treatment and nearly always as an outpatient procedure, allowing you to go home afterwards. A session of treatment can vary in length from person to person. Ask your eye specialist how long your sessions will last and whether you will be expected to come back for more treatment.
Is it painful?
As a local anaesthetic is used, laser treatment is not painful for most people, although a few will experience some discomfort. Many people say that the first laser sessions are not painful, but treatment can become uncomfortable if many sessions are needed.
Before your laser sessions, speak to your eye specialist about using your usual methods of pain relief, should it be needed.
What should I do after treatment?
Some lasers operate with bright flashes of light during a session. In others, the beam is invisible to the patient. Whichever method is used, most people describe feeling slightly dazzled or say that their vision is affected for a while immediately after treatment. It is a good idea to ask a friend or family member to come home with you after a session, and to allow yourself time to rest quietly.
As your eyes will take time to return to normal after the treatment, remember:
- take sunglasses with you as your eyes may be more than usually sensitive to bright light for a while
- arrange for someone to drive you home, because the dilating drops will temporarily blur your vision.
Are there any side effects?
Some people develop macular oedema (gathering of fluid in the macula, causing swelling) after laser treatment. This may cause a temporary worsening of vision, but in most people this improves within a few weeks.
People who have had many sessions of laser treatment may notice some loss of quality in their sight. This is because laser treatment burns abnormal vessels in the retina but can also damage healthy parts of the retina.
Also if people have had many sessions sometimes the edges of vision, called the ‘peripheral visual field’, may be reduced. This means that driving would be unsafe in this instance, even if your central vision is quite good. People may have difficulty seeing in low light or at night, distinguishing colours, and may also see shimmering or flashing lights.
Reviewed: March 2011
Next review: September 2012