Gas Bubbles and Safety

If a gas bubble has been left inside your eye after the surgery, it is critical that you do not fly, drive up a mountain quickly or have a gaseous anaesthetic because it could cause blindness.

The gas bubble is left to support the retina while it heals. A change from sea level to a higher altitude causes the bubble to enlarge and this elevates the pressure within the eye. If the pressure rises too quickly, the circulation is obstructed and can cause blindness. The most certain way this occurs is during plane takeoff or during a general anaesthetic where nitrous oxide gas. In both instances the pressure stays elevated for a long time. Severe pain can occur in a car climbing a mountain quickly but stopping or reversing will prevent blindness. Blindness does not occur if the pressure change occurs slowly – such as going uphill within suburban Melbourne

It is unsafe to fly with a gas bubble inside the eye. Alternative arrangements must be made.

If you are traveling up a mountain by car and develop a deep aching pain, it is important to stop and/or drive downhill again to allow the pressure to adjust. After 20 minutes or so to stabilise, you can proceed with safety.

There is no danger if the eye feels comfortable or if the pressure does not stay elevated for more than 20 minutes. As such, there is no reason not to travel nor is there a reason to panic if the eye starts to ache because there is plenty of time to turn around and allow things to stabilize.

Problems can only develop if people persist in continuing up the mountain despite the pain.

If you become ill and require a general anesthetic while the bubble is there, you must tell the anesthetist about your eye operation and the gas bubble. They can use many other safe alternatives if they know the bubble is there.

Remember that the gas bubble will obstruct your vision when looking straight ahead – it will be like looking underwater in a swimming pool. As the vision returns the gas will block the lower vision just like having water in a diving mask – it rocks from side to side as you tilt your head.

A gas bubble wrist band will be provided after theatre and must be worn. It is important not to remove this until A/Prof Wilson Heriot has informed you to do so.