Déjà Vu: Do Cataracts Grow Back?

If you have undergone cataract surgery in the past, you probably rejoiced at your renewed bright and colorful visual capacity. However, if your vision has begun to appear cloudy once again, you may be wondering if cataracts can grow back.

Initial Surgery

When your cataract surgery was performed, an incision was made on the cornea of your eye, through which the core of the clouded lens was removed. When this was done, the outer membrane of the lens was left behind to house the intraocular lens that was then implanted to replace the natural lens. There are risks and complications that can occur with cataract surgery, including:

  • Swelling of the cornea
  • Retinal detachment
  • Increased ocular pressure
  • Fluid accumulation in the retina
  • Acceleration of age-related macular degeneration

Any of these conditions can result in a loss of vision, but their occurrence is somewhat rare. A much more common explanation for a change in vision after cataract surgery is a condition called posterior capsular opacification, also referred to as a secondary cataract.

Secondary Cataracts

Although the condition is often called a secondary cataract, it is not a true cataract. Once the natural lens was removed during an initial cataract surgery procedure, the cataract cannot grow back. Posterior capsular opacification occurs when the membrane in which the intraocular lens was implanted has begun to cloud over due to increased cellular growth on the back of the membrane. The result is a gradual increase in cloudy vision. Secondary cataracts occur in as many as half of all patients who have undergone cataract surgery, and the condition can occur at any time from months to years after the cataract surgery was performed. But there is no way to determine whether or not a patient will develop a secondary cataract.

YAG Laser Posterior Capsulotomy Procedure

Posterior capsular opacification can be corrected quickly and easily with a laser treatment called a YAG laser posterior capsulotomy procedure, which may be performed by the cataract surgeon. In this procedure, a laser beam creates a small opening in the cloudy area at the back of the membrane, which allows light to pass through to the retina. If the thought of undergoing another corrective procedure seems frustrating, consider these favorable points of the YAG laser capsulotomy:

  • The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis.
  • The procedure takes approximately five minutes.
  • No incision is made when performing this procedure.
  • Numbing drops are all that is typically needed in the way of anesthesia for this procedure.
  • Most patients notice improvement in their vision immediately.

Risks and Complications

While the YAG laser posterior capsulotomy procedure takes only five minutes, you will need to remain in the surgeon's office for at least an hour or so following the procedure so that your intraocular pressure can be monitored. A short-term increase of intraocular pressure is the most common complication that occurs with this procedure. If your intraocular pressure does increase, ophthalmologic drops will be prescribed to reduce the pressure.

Other risks of the YAG laser posterior capsulotomy are rare, but include the following:

  • Retinal detachment
  • Macular edema
  • Floaters
  • Corneal edema
  • Damage to the intraocular lens

If you have had cataract surgery in the past and are now experiencing a return of blurred or cloudy vision, schedule an examination with an ophthalmologist, like those at Tri State Ophthalmology, to confirm the cause and to discuss your treatment options.