Side Effects of Cataract Surgery

Even though cataract surgery is one of the most routinely performed procedures in the U.S., all surgical procedures are associated with some degree of risk. For this reason, choosing an experienced cataract surgery specialist is important. The National Eye Institute recognizes cataract surgery as generally effective and safe with about 90% of patients experiencing improvements in vision following surgery. After surgery, most patients will experience mild to moderate side effects of discomfort, itching, light sensitivity, and fluid discharge as the eye heals.

Less Common Potential Side Effects of Cataract Surgery

  • Posterior Capsule Opacity (PCO) – PCO leads to blurry vision following cataract surgery. The lens is no longer cloudy, but the blurred vision results from a hazy membrane situated behind the IOL. This side effect is sometimes called an “after-cataract” or a “secondary cataract.”  PCO is treated with a procedure called YAG laser capsulotomy, which creates an open space in the hazy layer and allows light to pass through to the retina. In the U.S., there is a very small risk of a detached retina following a YAG laser procedure (about 2%); the risk of a detached retina for the general population is about 1%.
  • Poorly Positioned or Dislocated IOL – Certain types of IOLs require extremely precise placement in the eye to be effective. However, even a well-placed IOL can become dislocated because of the fragility of the capsular bag (the space in the eye that holds the natural lens or the IOL).  Although surgeons make every effort to retain the bag, it can rupture because it is so thin or the “zonules” that keep it positioned in the eye can become weak or even break. In many cases, this situation can be corrected in a second procedure, but timeliness is often crucial to positive outcomes because the scarring that develops with prolonged healing can make the lens placement more difficult to adjust as time passes. If you experience double vision or can see the side of the implant, inform your ophthalmologist immediately.
  • Detached Retina – A side effect that could occur years after surgery, retinal detachment can usually be treated effectively if symptoms are addressed quickly. If you experience vision loss (like a curtain closing), flashes of light, or floaters, contact your doctor.
  • Infection – If you experience signs of infection –bleeding, pain, or swelling – inform your surgeon immediately.  Although rare, infection after cataract surgery can lead to vision loss.

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