Pan-retinal photocoagulation, or PRP (also called scatter laser treatment), is used to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR). The goal is to create 1,600 – 2,000 burns in the retina with the hope of reducing the retina’s oxygen demand, and hence the possibility of ischemia.
In treating advanced diabetic retinopathy, the burns are used to destroy the abnormal blood vessels that form in the retina. This has been shown to reduce the risk of severe vision loss for eyes at risk by 50%.
Before using the laser, the ophthalmologist dilates the pupil and applies anesthetic drops to numb the eye. In some cases, the doctor also may numb the area behind the eye to reduce discomfort. The patient sits facing the laser machine while the doctor holds a special lens on the eye. The physician can use a single spot laser or a pattern scan laser for two dimensional patterns such as squares, rings and arcs. During the procedure, the patient will see flashes of light. These flashes oftentimes create an uncomfortable stinging sensation for the patient. After the laser treatment, patients should be advised not to drive for a few hours while the pupils are still dilated. Vision will most likely remain blurry for the rest of the day. Though there should not be much pain in the eye itself, an ice cream headache like pain may last for hours afterwards.
Patients will lose some of their peripheral vision after this surgery although it may be barely noticeable by the patient. The procedure does however save the center of the patient’s sight. Laser surgery may also slightly reduce color and night vision.
A person with proliferative retinopathy will always be at risk for new bleeding, as well as glaucoma, a complication from the new blood vessels. This means that multiple treatments may be required to protect vision.