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Vitreoretinal Specialist: What They Do & When to See One

A vitreoretinal specialist is a medical professional who specializes in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of diseases and conditions affecting the macula, peripheral retina, and/or vitreous gel. 

You should see one when you experience any condition affecting these areas or if you are experiencing clouding, bleeding, inflammation, or infection in this area. 

What Is a Vitreoretinal Specialist?

A vitreoretinal specialist is a physician who specializes in the treatment of conditions that affect the vitreous gel, peripheral retina in the back of the eye, or the macula. This professional differs from a general ophthalmologist in that their primary focus is the treatment of vitreoretinal diseases affecting the retina and vitreous. 

The main advantage of seeing a vitreoretinal specialist is their advanced understanding, diagnostic capabilities, and treatment proficiency involving conditions that specifically affect the retina and vitreous. While your ophthalmologist will also have a general understanding of these conditions, a doctor who specializes in this area will be better able to identify and manage more complex conditions.

What They Do

A vitreoretinal specialist performs several distinct functions, including these:

  • Comprehensive eye exams 
  • Diagnosis of vitreoretinal diseases and conditions
  • Management of symptoms of vitreoretinal diseases
  • Surgical intervention and treatment of problems affecting the retina and vitreous.
  • Monitoring of symptoms following treatment and evaluation of ongoing health status.

Conditions Treated

These are some of the most common conditions treated by a vitreoretinal specialist:

  • Macular degeneration: This is either an age-related or disease-induced degeneration of the macula (the part of the eye that processes central vision). Dry macular degeneration is a common subtype of this condition that occurs more commonly in individuals over the age of 50. This condition can cause reduced or blurred central vision due to the thinning of the macula (part of the retina).
  • Macular holes: These are small gaps that open at the center of the retina, which is responsible for both central and highly detailed vision, such as in the case of reading or drawing.
  • Macular puckers: This is a relatively rare condition that leads to distorted or wavy vision. In many cases, the cause of this condition is not known, and its mild symptoms often do not warrant treatment.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: This is a disease of the eyes in which the blood vessels become damaged due to elevated blood sugar associated with diabetes. These damaged vessels and the development of new ones that are abnormal can result in a loss of vision.
  • Retinal detachment: This is an urgent situation in which the thin layer of tissue located in the back of the eye is pulled away from its regular position. Because the blood vessels provide oxygen and nutrition to the eye, a prolonged detachment can ultimately result in vision loss.

Education & Training Needed to Become a Vitreoretinal Specialist

On average, it takes approximately 14 years of higher education (schooling after high school) in order to become a vitreoretinal specialist. This typically includes the following:

  • 4 years of education at the undergraduate level
  • 4 years of medical school
  • 1 year of internships following medical school
  • 3 years of residency in an ophthalmology facility.
  • 2 years of fellowships, including 1 year of working specifically in a medical retina facility

A consultant vitreoretinal surgeon will have had at least one year of directly supervised surgical training within a qualified fellowship. All physicians who become vitreoretinal specialists in the United States are board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. 

These professionals are sufficiently trained to treat microscopic complexities of retinal and surgical diseases.

How to Find a Specialist

Your general practitioner or general ophthalmologist may refer you to a vitreoretinal surgeon for more complex conditions that affect the vitreous and retina. If your ophthalmologist does not specialize in this area, they can help make recommendations based on your specific care needs. 

Another way to locate a vitreoretinal specialist is to use the American Society of Retina Specialists website. This site contains a locator function that allows you to enter specific information about your location. Based on your willingness to travel, the number of specialists within intermittent distances will be provided. Then, you can see a photo of each specialist, their telephone number, and their specific location. 

By clicking on their name, you can see more detailed information about their professional background, affiliations, education, and training.

References

  1. Diabetic Retinopathy: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment. (October 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  2. Find a Retina Specialist. (2022). American Society of Retina Specialists.

  3. Macular Pucker. (January 2022). National Eye Institute.

Last Updated December 20, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.