Laser Photocoagulation to Treat Eye Problems

Laser Photocoagulation to Treat Eye Problems

What is laser photocoagulation?

For many decades now, laser photocoagulation, also known as "hot" laser treatment, has remained the mainstay of treatment for various retinal diseases. It offers ophthalmologists a safe, non-invasive method of treating common retinal conditions such as PDR, DME and AMD, with proven efficacy in multiple clinical trials.

Definition of laser photocoagulation

Laser photocoagulation is an outpatient treatment wherein blood vessels are cauterized by the heat from a fine-point laser beam.  It uses the heat from a laser to seal or destroy abnormal, leaking blood vessels in the retina.

Indications / uses of Laser photocoagulation (What conditions can it correct?)

Laser photocoagulation is a crucial therapy for numerous retinal diseases. Diabetic retinopathy is the most prevalent retinal disease treatable with laser photocoagulation. Other related conditions such as retinoblastoma, retinal detachment, and diabetic macular edema are also actively treated by laser photocoagulation. Other retinal diseases which can be treated by laser photocoagulation include subfoveal Choroidal neovascularization, retinopathy of prematurity and macular edema.

How does laser photocoagulation work?

Laser photocoagulation is a light therapy for wet macular degeneration utilizing laser light to destroy or seal leaking blood vessels. This treatment coagulates the membranes of the blood vessels. This prevents the leakage that leads to permanent vision loss. Photocoagulation actually uses a laser beam through a special kind of contact lens known as an ophthalmoscope. This, in turn, causes scar tissue to form around the retina, allowing it to reattach itself to the back of the eye wall.

Are there any side effects?

Major side effects of laser photocoagulation are retinal scarring, which is perceived as a blind spot, and recurrence of leaky blood vessels. One must remember that laser photocoagulation burns and destroys part of the retina and often results in some permanent vision loss. Treatment may cause mild loss of central vision, reduced night vision, and decreased ability to focus. Some people may lose some of their side (peripheral) vision. But the vision loss caused by laser treatment is mild compared with the vision loss that may be caused by untreated retinopathy.

Also, the degree of photocoagulation depends on the transmission, reflection and absorption of the tissue, the wavelength of the laser beam and its intensity. While most class 1, 2 and 3a intensity laser pointers pose no real risks for photocoagulation, class 3b and class 4 lasers pose a direct threat to living tissues even by momentary exposure.

What other methods are available to treat similar conditions?

As mentioned above, laser photocoagulation is used and indicated in the treatment of a number of diseases related principally with the retina. Selection of various treatment modalities, therefore, depends upon a number of factors such as type of the disease, severity of the condition, age and lifestyle of the patient, etc. In general, however, following methods are available (although not as a substitute) to treat similar conditions:

  • Use of pharmaceutical drugs (such as protein kinase C ?(PKC) inhibitors and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors)
  • Cryopexy (It causes greater eye irritation than laser surgery and is typically used only if your tear is located at the hard-to-reach edges of the retina).
  • Photodynamic Therapy (Photodynamic therapy involves the injection of a drug called verteporfin into the bloodstream. This drug, with the brand name Visudyne, concentrates in the abnormal blood vessels underneath the the macula (the central portion of the retina). A cold laser light is beamed at these areas in and activates the drug to close off the abnormal blood vessels)
  • Macular Translocation Surgery (Surgery is rare for macular degeneration, but there has been success with macular translocation surgery in patients who still have healthy tissue remaining around the fovea. The procedure involves detaching the retina and moving the fovea towards healthy tissue and away from the damaged blood vessels
  • Radiotherapy & chemotherapy (in case of retinoblastoma)
  • Cryotherapy

Will my vision be restored after this procedure?

Laser photocoagulation is most often used to stabilize vision and prevent future vision loss rather than to improve vision loss that has already occurred. Laser treatment may not restore vision that has already been lost. But when it is done in a timely manner, laser treatment may reduce the risk of future vision loss.

Learn more about treating eye problems with laser photocoagulation on our forums!


Perhaps 40 years ago I had successful Laser Photocoagulation eye surgery for wet AMD. The condition has returned. I wish to once again have Laser Photocoagulation eye surgery as soon as possible. Do you perform this type of surgery?
I am 82 but otherwise in good health. I live in southern California.
Paul S. Cooper