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Pars Plana Vitrectomy

Chirag C Patel, MD Vitreoretinal Surgeon, The Retina Group, Columbus, OH
Chirag C Patel, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of
Ophthalmology, American Medical Association, Association for Research in Vision and
Ophthalmology,American Society of Retina Specialists
Updated: Apr 02, 2015

Pars plana vitrectomy is often performed under emergency conditions (eg, treatment of rhegmatogenous retinal
detachment, management of endophthalmitis, or retrieval of an intraocular foreign body). In these conditions,
the procedure may be contraindicated only if the eye has no light perception and if regaining any vision in the
eye is impossible. Vitrectomy is contraindicated in the presence of suspected or active retinoblastoma or, in
some cases, active choroidal melanoma because incision of the eye may be associated with systemic seeding.
In elective cases, such as epiretinal membrane removal or treatment of a macular hole, the use of a systemic
blood thinner (eg, aspirin or warfarin) is a relative contraindication. To reduce the possibility of intraoperative
and postoperative bleeding, patients should work with their primary care physicians and stop taking the bloodthinning agent.
Often, patients receiving warfarin are unable to discontinue its use; in such cases, a heparin or enoxaparin
bridge can be employed preoperatively, and warfarin can be resumed postoperatively. A prothrombin time (PT)
should be obtained on the day of surgery for any patient who has been taking warfarin, even if the drug was
discontinued preoperatively, to ensure that the levels are low enough to permit surgery.

Local anesthesia with intravenous (IV) sedation is appropriate in most cases. A retrobulbar block consisting of
an equal mixture of short-acting lidocaine 2% and longer-acting bupivacaine 0.75% can be used; hyaluronidase
may be added to help with tissue dispersion.
Before the retrobulbar block is performed, IV propofol may be given by the anesthesiologist for short-term
sedation during the block; 5-6 mL is usually sufficient. After the retrobulbar block is performed, pressure should
be applied to the globe. Globe and orbit firmness should be monitored; excessive globe tightness is a sign of
retrobulbar hemorrhage.
As an alternative to retrobulbar block, a subtenon block may be given before the start of the case. After topical
anesthetic drops and povidone-iodine are instilled, the conjunctiva and the tenon capsule are incised in an
oblique quadrant, and anesthetic is infused into the retrobulbar space through a blunt cannula. This method is
likely to give rise to retrobulbar hemorrhage.
In some cases, general anesthesia may be required. It should be considered for pediatric patients and overly
anxious patients. General anesthesia should also be considered when the operating time is expected to be
longer than usual or when a patient requests it.

Patients are brought to the operating room in an eye bed that has an appropriate head rest and the capability to
have a wrist rest secured to it. Once the bed is positioned next to the operating microscope and locked, the bed
is made completely flat, and the patient is positioned so that the head lies comfortably on the head rest.
The wrist rest is then appropriately secured so that its height is at the level of the patients zygoma and the
apex of the patients head is about 1 cm from the rest. The patients arms should be appropriately secured so
that they do not hang off the side of the bed. A bed sheet can be wrapped around the patients torso and
secured with hemostats to prevent inadvertent movement during the procedure.

Pars Plana Vitrectomy
Before the procedure is begun but after the retrobulbar block has been placed, the eye to be operated on is
thoroughly prepared with a 5% solution of povidone-iodine. Great care should be taken to wash the eyelid
margins thoroughly and to bathe the conjunctiva adequately with the povidone-iodine solution. A hard metal
shield is securely placed on the nonoperative eye for protection. The surgical field is then appropriately draped,
and an eyelid speculum is placed in the operative eye.

Creation of sclerotomies
The older 20-gauge system or the newer 23-, 25-, or 27-gauge systems may be used for vitrectomy. Certain
technical details are specific to the vitrectomy system used.
20-gauge vitrectomy
With 20-gauge vitrectomy, the conjunctiva and tenon layer are incised to expose the sclera. This is done with
Westcott scissors superonasally, superotemporally, and inferotemporally. Once bare sclera is exposed, light
cauterization is applied over the planned sclerotomy sites to obtain hemostasis.
A caliper is then used to measure 4 mm from the limbus in phakic eyes and 3.5 mm in pseudophakic or aphakic
eyes in the inferotemporal quadrant. This distance is marked on the sclera with the caliper, and 7-0 or 8-0
double-armed polyglactin suture is used to place 2 radial bites on either side of the mark. These bites should
be about 1.5 mm long and 1.5 mm from each other. The suture is cut so as to leave tails approximately 2 cm
long on each side (see the image below).

20-gauge pars plana vitrectomy in pseudophakic eye.

A sclerotomy is made with a microvitreoretinal (MVR) blade positioned between the 2 suture bites parallel to
the limbus. The blade is aimed toward the middle of the globe and is inserted far enough that the tip is visible
through the pupil before being pulled out.
The infusion line is then placed in the sclerotomy after it has been run to remove all air bubbles in the line. The
infusion line is secured to the globe by engaging 1 flange of the infusion under the suture loop and tying the 2
free ends of the suture over the second flange. This knot should be tied as a temporary loop knot so that it can
be permanently tied at the end of the case to close the sclerotomy after removal of the infusion line.
The light pipe is used to visualize the tip of the infusion line in the vitreous cavity. The tip should have a
glistening metallic appearance; a dull-brown appearance may indicate that the choroid has not been
penetrated. If the choroid has not been penetrated, a second sclerotomy is made superonasally with the MVR
blade, and the tip of the infusion line is cleared by pushing the choroid away with the MVR blade. The infusion
should never be turned on until the surgeon is confident that the tip is safely in the vitreous cavity.

Once the infusion line is in place, superior sclerotomies are made in the superotemporal and superonasal
quadrants with the MVR blade. These should be made approximately 150 o apart at an appropriate distance
from the limbus, depending on the phakic status of the eye.
23-gauge, 25-gauge, and 27-gauge vitrectomy
A 23-gauge, 25-gauge, or 27-gauge vitrectomy does not require incision of the conjunctiva and tenon layer to
expose sclera. Peritomies are not created. Instead, trocars are placed through the conjunctiva and sclera to
afford access to the vitreous. As in 20-gauge vitrectomy, this is done in the inferotemporal, superotemporal, and
superonasal quadrants at an appropriate distance from the limbus, depending on phakic status. Before cannula
insertion, conjunctiva is displaced with a cotton tip to keep the conjunctival puncture away from the scleral
The cannula (on a trocar) is inserted into the sclera, usually at a 9-45 o angle (depending on gauge) and parallel
to the limbus. After the trocar, but not the cannula, has entered the eye, the trocar is turned directly toward the
center of the globe and is advanced until the hub of the cannula is flush with the sclera. The trocar is then
removed, leaving the cannula in place. This maneuver allows a longer scleral wound and carries a lower risk of
wound leakage.
The infusion line is attached to the inferotemporal stent, and the infusion is turned on once full penetration of
the cannula into the vitreous cavity is confirmed.

Core vitrectomy
A light pipe and a vitrector are then passed through the superior sclerotomies. The first step is to perform a
core vitrectomy to debulk the central vitreous (see the video below). This can be performed under direct
visualization with the microscope. In patients with phakic eyes, the vitreous cutter should not be positioned too
anteriorly, and the midline should not be crossed with any instrument, because this can cause lens touch and
damage the crystalline lens.
25-gauge core vitrectomy under direct visualization.

Posterior vitrectomy
Once adequate core vitrectomy has been performed, the posterior segment is visualized (see the image below)
with a wide-angle viewing system. Numerous systems are available, including both noncontact systems that
are connected to the microscope and contact systems that are handheld or sutured in place with a lens ring.

Image of posterior fundus during pars plana vitrectomy.

When vitrectomy is performed, the infusion pressure must be monitored. If the vitreous cutter is cutting without
engaging any vitreous, it can quickly outrun the infusion and cause the eye to collapse. The infusion pressure

must be maintained at a level that is high enough to keep the eye formed but not so high that vitreous or retinal
tissue is pushed out the eye (incarcerated) at the sclerotomy sites when instruments are passed in and out of
the eye.
From this point, surgical management depends on the specific case. For a rhegmatogenous retinal
detachment, inducing a posterior vitreous detachment (see the video below) is appropriate, if it is already not
present. In a patient with diabetes, the posterior hyaloid should be incised and truncated 360. If identifying the
vitreous is difficult, triamcinolone acetonide may be injected into the posterior segment to highlight the gel.
Detailed discussion of these and other techniques performed during vitrectomy is beyond the scope of this
Induction of posterior vitreous detachment in 25-gauge macular hole repair.

Vitreous base shaving

Once a posterior vitreous detachment is induced and the posterior hyaloid is removed, shaving the vitreous
base is often necessary. The vitreous base must be shaved because its adherence to the retina prevents it
from being completely removed. Vitreous base shaving is done in coordination with scleral depression
performed by a skilled assistant. This step is always necessary in a rhegmatogenous retinal detachment

Other vitreoretinal maneuvers

After an adequate amount of vitreous is removed, numerous intraocular procedures may be indicated,
depending on the reason for the vitrectomy. These include perfluorocarbon injection, membrane peeling,
endolaser treatment, retinotomy or retinectomy, air-fluid exchange, gas-air exchange (usually involving sulfur
hexafluoride [SF6] or octafluoropropane [C3 F8]), and silicone oil injection.

Completion and closure

At the end of the procedure, the sclerotomies are closed so that they are watertight. For 20-gauge vitrectomy,
this involves suturing each of the sclerotomies with 7-0 or 8-0 polyglactin suture in a mattress fashion. The
infusion line is withdrawn, and the sclerotomy is closed with the preplaced polyglactin suture. Conjunctiva is
carefully reapposed with either polyglactin or chromic gut suture to make sure that the sclerotomies are
adequately covered.
The 23-gauge, 25-gauge, and 27-gauge stents are designed to create self-sealing sclerotomies. As a cannula
is withdrawn, a cotton tip should be used to apply pressure to the sclerotomy site. If wound leakage is
suspected, a single polyglactin suture can be passed through both conjunctiva and sclera to ensure watertight
closure of the sclerotomy.
Finally, physiologic intraocular pressure (IOP) is confirmed by means of palpation or tonometry. Antibiotics and
steroids can then be administered through subconjunctival injection or topical application of ointment to the
eye. The eye is taped and shielded.

The following technical points should be kept in mind in the performance of pars plana vitrectomy:

In phakic eyes, do not cross the midline with an intraocular instrument, or the crystalline lens may be
damaged and a cataract may ensue
Lower the infusion pressure when removing an instrument from the eye to prevent vitreous or retinal
When performing 20-gauge vitrectomy, clear vitreous near the sclerotomy entrance at an early point to
prevent sclerotomy breaks or vitreous or retinal incarceration in the sclerotomy
When injecting perfluorocarbon, do not inject directly over the fovea; also, do not inject too quickly, or
the central retinal artery may become occluded
Upon completion, examine the peripheral retina with scleral depression to ensure the absence of
iatrogenic breaks or retinal detachment
During air-fluid exchange, fogging of the posterior surface of an intraocular lens can often occur; to
regain visualization, apply viscoelastic to the back of the intraocular lens


The major complications of vitrectomy are bleeding (0.14-0.17%),[2, 3] infection (0.039-0.07%),[4, 5] and retinal
detachment (5.5-10%).[6, 7] If possible, blood thinners should be discontinued preoperatively. Intraoperatively,
adequate IOP must be maintained; drops in pressure that cause globe collapse are a major risk factor for the
development of a choroidal hemorrhage.
Eyes should be meticulously washed with a dilute povidone-iodine solution before the operation. Immediately
after the operation, subconjunctival or topical antibiotics should be administered before the eye is patched.
Topical antibiotic drops should be prescribed for at least 1 week after the procedure. Endophthalmitis is less
common in postsurgical vitrectomized eyes because the vitreous has been removed.
Retinal detachment can occur during vitrectomy if an iatrogenic retinal break is made during the procedure (as
when inadvertent retinal touch causes a break or sclerotomy tear). These detachments should be repaired in a
manner similar to primary retinal detachment repair.

Periprocedural Care
Pars plana vitrectomy requires highly specialized equipment that is found only in an operating room (OR) that is
specially equipped for vitreoretinal surgery. Generally, the following are needed:

An eye bed on which a wrist rest for the surgeon can be secured
An operating microscope
A mechanical vitrector
A wide-angle viewing system
Westcott scissors, forceps, and needle holders
An argon indirect laser or endolaser device
An endoillumination system
A bipolar cautery
Intraocular instruments (eg, forceps, scissors, and flute needle)
Scleral depressor
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF 6) and octafluoropropane (C 3 F 8) gases
Silicone oil


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