Laser photocoagulation is eye surgery using a laser to shrink or destroy abnormal structures in the retina, or to intentionally cause scarring.
Your doctor will perform this surgery at an outpatient or office setting.
Photocoagulation takes place by using the laser to create a microscopic burn in the target tissue. The laser spots are usually applied in 1 of 3 patterns.
Before the procedure, you will be given eye drops to dilate your pupils. Rarely, you will get a shot of a local anesthetic. The shot may be uncomfortable. You will be awake and pain-free during the procedure.
Diabetes can harm the eyes by causing diabetic retinopathy. It is one of the most common eye diseases that needs laser photocoagulation. It can damage the retina, the back part of your eye. The most severe from of the condition is proliferative diabetic retinopathy, in which abnormal vessels grow on the retina. Over time, these vessels can bleed or cause scarring of the retina.
In laser photocoagulation for diabetic retinopathy, laser energy is aimed at certain areas of the retina to prevent abnormal vessels from growing or shrink those that may already be there. The procedure is sometimes done to get rid of the buildup of fluid in the center of the eye (macula) that is causing swelling. Sometimes it is done to make edema fluid in the center of the retina (macula) go away.
This surgery may also be used to treat the following eye problems:
Since each pulse of the laser causes a microscopic burn in the retina, you may develop:
If not treated, diabetic retinopathy can cause permanent blindness.
Special preparations are rarely needed before laser photocoagulation. Usually, both eyes will be dilated for the prodcedure.
Arrange to have someone to drive you home after the procedure.
You vision may be blurry for the first 24 hours. You may see floaters, but these will subside over time. If your treatment was for macular edema, your vision may seem worse for a few days.
Laser surgery works best in the early stages of vision loss. It cannot bring back lost vision. However, it can greatly reduce the risk of permanent vision loss.
Managing your diabetes can help prevent diabetic retinopathy. Follow your eye doctor's advice on how to protect your vision. Have eye exams as often as recommended, usually once every 1 to 2 years.
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.