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What is an intravitreal injection?

An intravitreal injection is a painless injection of medicine into the vitreous, which is the jelly-like substance inside the eye. The procedure is performed to place medicines inside the eye, near the retina. Intravitreal injections are a treatment that can be used with retinal diseases.

What are intravitreal injections used for?

Many retinal specialists choose to manage retina diseases with an injection of medicine into the eye. We are fortunate to live in a time when these retinal diseases can be treated. Prior to having the intravitreal injection procedure available, many eyes with sight threatening conditions would experience severe vision loss and even blindness.

The medicines help stop the growth of new blood vessels and prevent leakage by blocking the effects of protein signals the eye creates as a response to the retinal disease.

Injection treatments are considered to be the primary treatment for many retinal diseases including:

Watch our video that explains what an eye injection is and what you can expect! 

Are intravitreal injections into the eye painful?

It is natural to be apprehensive about these treatments and to wonder if injections in the eye are painful. For the majority of patients, the injection is a generally painless procedure and easier than anticipated. Many patients walk out of their appointments at Wolfe Eye Clinic feeling the same as when they arrived. Our Iowa retina specialists take great care to ensure each patient has a safe and comfortable experience during the treatment. At your intravitreal injection appointment, you can expect to lie in a comfortable position and your eye will be made comfortable with an anesthetic. Your eye will also be cleaned with an antiseptic solution to eliminate as much bacteria as possible. The medicine is then carefully injected into the eye by your retina doctor. You may feel some pressure on the eye when this is done, but you should not experience pain.

After Your Intravitreal Injection Procedure

After the intravitreal injection procedure, the eye is gently rinsed to remove any remaining antiseptic solution. Upon departure, our retina team will give you instructions for the care of your eye and guide you on ways to avoid discomfort after the treatment. You may experience a scratchy sensation in the eye, and there may be a bruising or red spot over the white of the eye. These changes are common and will resolve with time. You might initially see floaters that typically resolve over hours to days. While there are risks to any procedure, the intravitreal injection procedure is very safe. Some of the rare complications associated intravitreal injections include persistent floaters, retinal tear and detachment, cataract, high eye pressure, bleeding and serious eye infection.

If you have any troubles or concerns, there is always a doctor on call at Wolfe Eye Clinic to assist you. Please contact us immediately if you feel you are having a problem. Since you are having treatment that could blur your vision you should plan on having someone drive you home after your appointment.

Are eye injections dangerous?

While the thought of eye injections makes many people cringe, they are generally well-tolerated and very, very safe. The most common side effect from an eye injection is mild eye discomfort that usually lasts hours. The most severe side effect is infection in the eye. Thankfully, this remains extremely rare as we are very strict in our aseptic procedure before and after each injection.

What medications are used to treat retinal disease?

In general, there are two types of medication that retina specialists inject in the eye to treat retinal diseases: steroids and medications that block vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) which is a chemical signal that causes abnormal blood vessel leakage and growth. These are used because they have been proven to safely and effectively stop the growth and tissue damage that results from the progression of abnormal blood vessels in the eye thus preventing further loss of vision. You can learn more about retinal diseases here.

Types of Intravitreal Injections

1. Steroids for Retinal Disease

Injections of steroids into the eye have been used for many years to treat inflammation and tissue swelling. Presently, steroid injections are reserved for eye problems that have been resistant to other types of treatment. While steroid injections can be very effective and last much longer than some other treatments, they can often cause eye pressure to rise which may lead to the development of glaucoma.

These steroids are used to treat inflammation or swelling in the eye and include:

  • Triamcinolone [Triesence, Kenalog, Xipere]

  • Dexamethasone [Ozurdex]

  • Fluocinolone [Illuvien, Yutiq]


2. VEGF Blockers or Anti-VEGF Medications

Nearly two decades ago, a protein found throughout the body that promotes blood vessel growth was discovered to be one of the major driving forces behind abnormal blood vessel leakage and bleeding in the eye. This protein, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), is thought to cause abnormal blood vessel growth and leakage in wet macular degeneration, diabetes, and a variety of other retinal blood vessel diseases. By blocking the VEGF, retina specialists are able to stop, control and reverse the damage caused by the diseased retinal blood vessels.

Medications that block VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) stop chemical signals in the eye that lead to vision loss from abnormal blood vessel leakage and growth. These medications include:

  • Avastin

  • Beovu

  • Eylea

  • Macugen

  • Lucentis

There are many factors that your retina specialist at Wolfe Eye Clinic will consider in selecting which medication is best for your situation. Our goal is to preserve your vision safely with the least amount of treatment.

How many intravitreal injections are needed?

While the intravitreal injections are effective in controlling the disease, they do not usually cure the disease. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how many treatments your eye will require as every eye is unique. You should take comfort in knowing that your retina specialist will be working hard to preserve your vision with the least number of treatments. It is possible that you will require regular treatments by a retina specialist to maintain the beneficial effect of the medicine and preserve vision. In some instances, you may even recover some vision as a response to the medicine over time.

The retina specialists in Iowa at Wolfe Eye Clinic will work very closely with you to achieve maximum results while minimizing the number of treatments as much as possible to meet your needs. Wolfe Eye Clinic has expertise in utilizing intravitreal injections for many retinal conditions in their Iowa locations.

How often will you need eye injections for your retina disease? Watch our video here for more information!

What are the alternatives to intravitreal injections?

Unfortunately, effective alternatives to eye injections do not exist for most retinal diseases right now. Occasionally laser treatments can be helpful in some situations but rarely as a true alternative. Your retina specialist at Wolfe Eye Clinic will work with you to safely reduce the number of injections as much as possible. Wolfe Eye Clinic’s retina specialists in Iowa are consistently researching future alternatives by participating in clinical trials looking at more effective medications, alternative long-term drug delivery systems, and even gene therapy to treat many diseases that require injection today.

Manage Intravitreal Injections with a Specialist Near You

Wolfe Eye Clinic has extensive experience with intravitreal injections and treating macular degeneration. Wolfe Eye Clinic retina specialists offer care and surgery for retina diseases in Iowa with locations in Ames, AnkenyCedar FallsCedar RapidsDes MoinesFort DodgeIowa CityMarshalltownOttumwaSpencerWaterloo, and Pleasant Hill.

If you have any retina-related questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (833) 474-5850 or request information here.