Like a laser, the intense cold applied to the retina can seal abnormal retinal tears and leaking retinal blood vessels. Cryotherapy may be used to treat retinal tears, small retinal detachments, tumors, vascular lesions, and different retinopathies. It may also be combined with pneumatic retinopexy for treatment of certain types of retinal detachments. This treatment is also helpful when there is a vitreous hemorrhage or when a cataract obscures light reception.

Cryotherapy is a same-day procedure, usually performed in the office. Topical anesthetic is given first, followed by a subconjunctival injection of lidocaine (a local anesthetic). Under an indirect ophthalmoscope and from the outside of the globe, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze around the tear. The eye is generally patched for a couple of hours.

After the procedure is performed, some redness, swelling, and mild discomfort can be expected. This will usually be alleviated by use of acetaminophen (Tylenol), though sometimes a stronger pain reliever may be required. Healing typically takes 10–14 days. Vision may be blurred briefly, and the operated eye is usually red and swollen for a period of time following cryopexy.

Cold compresses, applied to the eyelids, can relieve some of the discomfort. Early treatment almost always improves vision in most patients with retinal detachment. Some patients, however, require more than one cryopexy procedure to repair the damage.

As with any procedure there are risks, benefits and alternatives; your doctor will discuss this with you at length during your visit.