Fundus photo showing scatter laser surgery for diabetic retinopathy

What Is Photocoagulation Treatment?

Photocoagulation treatment refers to the form of advanced therapy that works by heating up the tissues to promote healing. Photocoagulation is commonly recommended for patients who suffer from eye disorders such as diabetic retinopathy.

Here is a brief discussion about what photocoagulation means and the benefits of this therapy. You can read more here about diabetic retinopathy and how it can be identified and treated.

Overview of photocoagulation treatment

Photocoagulation treatment involves the exposure of the affected tissues to laser rays causing them to heat up. The heat produced by the laser can seal and destroy the abnormal blood vessels and capillaries in the retina thus preventing leakage of blood that is responsible for the development and progress of diabetic retinopathy.

There are 2 forms of photocoagulation treatment recommended for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy as explained below:

Focal photocoagulation

This form of photocoagulation treatment is used for sealing the specific leaking capillaries and blood vessels in a small area of the retina, usually close to the macula.

The ophthalmologist can identify the specific damaged blood vessels to be targeted during the treatment so that the tissues are exposed to the minimum required number of laser burns to seal them off.

Pan-retinal or scatter photocoagulation

This form of treatment is recommended for slowing down the growth of new vessels that are developed over a wider part of the retina.

The ophthalmologist can expose the affected tissues of the retina to hundreds of laser burns to stop these blood vessels from growing further. The person would need 2 or more sessions of scatter photocoagulation depending on the extent of the tissues affected.

Laser photocoagulation usually does not cause any pain. You may see flashes of light and feel a mild stinging sensation temporarily when the laser is applied to the eye.

What Should You Expect From Photocoagulation Therapy?

  • Laser photocoagulation can be performed as an outpatient procedure in the doctor’s clinic. It is usually performed under topical or local anesthesia that numbs only the eye.
  • Your doctors will ask you to put eyedrops in the eye to widen the pupils before the session. Your eyes would remain dilated for a few hours after the treatment. You can wear sunglasses to protect the eyes from bright lights while the pupils are still dilated.
  • You may experience blurring of vision for a day or two after the session.

What Should You Expect After Retinal Photocoagulation?

Laser photocoagulation can reduce the risk of complete or partial vision loss linked to diabetic retinopathy. It can help to stabilize your vision and prevent further vision loss.

However, it may not help to restore the vision loss that has occurred already.

Laser photocoagulation can also be used to prevent the progression of macular edema and proliferative retinopathy.

Laser Photocoagulation Treatment for diabetic retinopathy

What Are the Risks Involved In Retinal Laser Photocoagulation?

Laser photocoagulation works by burning and destroying the affected part of the retina. The treatment may cause a few adverse effects such as a minimal loss of central vision, reduced ability to focus, and reduced night vision.

Some rare complications of photocoagulation include:

  • Traction retinal detachment
  • Vitreous hemorrhage (bleeding in the eye)
  • Accidental laser burns in the small depression in the central part of the macula called the fovea that does not contain any blood vessels
  • Central vision loss

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Laser treatment, when performed in a timely manner, could reduce your risk of future vision loss and protect your eyesight against the complications linked to retinopathy.

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