Pneumatic Retinopexy for Retinal Detachment

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Pneumatic Retinopexy for Retinal Detachment

Surgery Overview

Pneumatic retinopexy is an effective surgery for certain types of retinal detachments. It uses a bubble of gas to push the retina against the wall of the eye, allowing fluid to be pumped out from beneath the retina. It is usually an outpatient procedure done with local anesthesia.

During pneumatic retinopexy, the eye doctor (ophthalmologist) injects a gas bubble into the middle of the eyeball. Your head is positioned so that the gas bubble floats to the detached area and presses lightly against the detachment. The bubble flattens the retina so that the fluid can be pumped out from beneath it. The eye doctor then uses a freezing probe (cryopexy) or laser beam (photocoagulation) to seal the tear in the retina.

The bubble remains for about 1 to 3 weeks to help flatten the retina, until a seal forms between the retina and the wall of the eye. The eye gradually absorbs the gas bubble.

A variation of this surgery uses a large bubble of silicone oil instead of a gas bubble to close and flatten the retina. A vitrectomy procedure, in which the vitreous gel is removed, is required to inject silicone oil. Because the silicone oil cannot be absorbed, a second procedure is needed to remove the oil after the retinal detachment has healed.

What To Expect After Surgery

Recovery from pneumatic retinopexy takes about 3 weeks. The local anesthetic affects only the eye and wears off quickly.

The hardest part of the recovery is keeping the gas bubble in the right place until a seal forms around the tear in the retina.

  • You must keep your head and eye in the proper position for 16 to 21 hours a day for 1 to 3 weeks after the surgery.
  • You cannot lie on your back or the bubble will move to the front of the eye and press against the lens.
  • Airplane travel is dangerous, because the change in altitude may cause the gas bubble to expand and increase the pressure inside the eye.

When silicone oil is used instead of gas, there may be less need to keep your head and eye in a precise position, because the oil bubble does not move as readily as a gas bubble. This may make the surgery and recovery easier for older adults, young children, and anyone who may have trouble keeping his or her head and eye in the proper position.

Contact your doctor right away if you notice any signs of complications after surgery, such as:

  • Decreasing vision.
  • Increasing pain.
  • Increasing redness.
  • Swelling around the eye.
  • Any discharge from the eye.
  • Any new floaters, flashes of light, or changes in your field of vision.

Why It Is Done

The location and size of a tear in the retina determines whether pneumatic retinopexy can be used. Pneumatic retinopexy can be useful when:

  • A single break or tear caused the detachment.
  • Multiple breaks are small and close to each other.
  • The break is in the upper part of the retina.

The break must be in the upper half of the eyeball for pneumatic retinopexy to be practical. You have to be able to position your head so that the break and the bubble are at the highest point. If the break was on the bottom of the eyeball, you would have to stay upside down during your recovery, which would not be practical.

How Well It Works

A single treatment with pneumatic retinopexy reattaches the retina most of the time. With additional treatments such as vitrectomy or scleral buckling, the surgery is successful nearly all the time.

Chances for good vision after surgery are higher if the macula was still attached before surgery. If the detachment affected the macula, good vision after surgery is still possible but less likely.


The most frequent problems from pneumatic retinopexy include:

  • Scarring on the retina, called proliferative vitreoretinopathy (PVR), which often causes the retina to detach again. This is the most common cause of failure in surgery for retinal detachment. PVR usually requires additional treatment, including surgery.
  • Formation of new breaks and tears.
  • The need for more than one surgery to reattach the retina. This is much more common with pneumatic retinopexy than with scleral buckling.
  • Fluid persisting under the retina or being absorbed only very slowly.
  • Small bubbles of the gas becoming trapped underneath the retina.

Although they do not occur very often, other complications include:

  • The detachment spreading into the macula and affecting central vision.
  • An increase in pressure inside the eye (glaucoma).
  • Detachment of the choroid, the middle layer of tissue that forms the eyeball. Choroidal detachment occurs in a small number of people who have pneumatic retinopexy, and it usually heals on its own without further treatment.
  • Bleeding in the vitreous gel (vitreous hemorrhage) or under the retina (subretinal hemorrhage). This is very rare.

What To Think About

Pneumatic retinopexy can be done on an outpatient basis.

The success of pneumatic retinopexy depends on keeping the gas bubble against the retina until it flattens. This will require you to hold your head and eye in the proper position for long periods of time. Do not have the procedure if a medical condition or other situation will make you unable to stay in the right position for the time required.

There are a few ways to repair a retinal detachment. The chance that each surgery type can help restore good vision varies from case to case. The cause, location, and type of detachment usually determine which surgery will work best. Other conditions or eye problems may also play a role in the decision.

You may need more than one surgery to reattach the retina if scar tissue from the first surgery grows over the surface of your retina.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerCarol L. Karp, MD - Ophthalmology
Last RevisedAugust 7, 2011

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