Cataract Surgery:
Complications during Surgery

The advances in technology and surgical techniques has resulted in the high success rates of cataract surgery (or cataract extraction) in many centers and hospitals. So many people now have had successful cataract operations, and some are now talking about cataract surgery as being only a 'minor' procedure.

Does this mean that cataract surgery complications are a thing of the past? Unfortunately no, complications still can occur during cataract surgery, even in the most experienced of surgical hands.

(Image adapted from the internet)

Cataract surgery is the removal of the cataract and its replacement with a lens implant.

But don't worry. It is common to have some discomfort, grittiness, sensation of something in the eye, and blood on the surface of the eye after surgery. More serious complications are uncommon and occur in only around 3% of cases. The great majority of problems are mild and will clear up over a few days to a few weeks without treatment, or are easily treated without long term consequences. Occasionally, a second operation will be needed to fix problems from the cataract operation. Severe complications resulting in blindness are very rare (less than 0.1%).

Complications can occur during surgery itself, within a few days/weeks of surgery, or months after surgery. Often, these complications occur not because of anything you have or have not done. If at any point, you are concerned that you may have developed complications following cataract surgery, please consult your ophthalmologist without delay. It is better to be safe and get your eye examined. Your ophthalmologist would also prefer the reassurance that your eye has not run into any problems, so please do not worry about 'wasting' your ophthalmologist's time.


Injury to the iris: Less than 10% of people have an injury to the iris (colored part of the eye). You may notice a discoloration or irregular shape of the iris or even stitches in the eye (occasionally sutures have to be put in for iris injury). This does not usually cause any problems later on.

Iris trauma during cataract surgery may result in an irregularly shaped pupil. It can look quite alarming at first glance. Although generally harmless, it may cause mild symptoms such as glare in bright sunlight.

(Image adapted from the internet)

Piece of lens left behind:  A bit of  the lens with the cataract can break off and become lost in the eye. This happens in fewer than 10% of operations, and is usually harmless. The lens fragment often slowly degrades away without causing any after effects. However, if the piece of lens is large, you may need another operation to remove it.

Retained lens fragments in the eye usually do not result in any clinical consequences. However, surgical removal may be needed if the fragment is too large or causes persistent ocular inflammation.

(Image adapted from the internet)

Damaged capsule (posterior capsule rupture): The capsule is the bag that supports the lens inside your eye. It is an extremely thin structure. Just how thin is it? Try to imagine the thin film between the layers of an onion - the capsule is even thinner than that! Because of how flimsy the capsule can be, it can tear or break during cataract surgery. This happens in 2% to 3% of operations. In most cases, the problem can be managed during the surgery itself. However, sometimes, a second operation is needed to fix problems that occur from this complication, such as retinal detachment and glaucoma.

Posterior capsule rupture is a complication that most ophthalmologists dread. If not managed properly, it may lead to complications such as glaucoma, persistent uveitis, cystoid macular edema, retinal detachment and infection.

(Image adapted from the internet)

Bleeding: It is relatively common to have a little bleeding or oozing (subconjunctival hemorrhage) around the eye during surgery. Heavy bleeding inside the eye (suprachoroidal hemorrhage), however, is completely different. It is a serious condition and may cause permanent visual loss. It is not common, and occurs in less than 0.1% of the time. This happens when a large blood vessel between the choroid and sclera ruptures, causing a major bleed behind the eye. When there is a suspicion of suprachoroidal hemorrhage, the best thing your ophthalmologist can do is to stop the operation immediately and close up the wounds. The operation can be resumed after a week once the hemorrhage has settled. Continuing the surgery in these circumstances would be exceedingly risky, and so it's definitely better to be safe than sorry.

(Image adapted from the internet)

While subconjunctival hemorrhage after cataract surgery may look serious and unsightly, the blood is located superficially under the conjunctiva and is of no clinical consequence.

Learn more about early complications of cataract extraction here

Learn more about late complications of cataract extraction here

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Return to: Vision & Eye Health


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