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Cataract Surgery Complications: Common & Uncommon Complications

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It’s estimated that over 98% of cataract surgeries are highly successful and involve no serious complications during or after the procedure. Following the instructions of your medical provider is key to ensure a smooth recovery. However, some post- surgery complications can still occur.

Most people who undergo cataract surgery won’t experience any major complications or problems. 

Common Complications After Cataract Surgery

More commonly-reported side effects include redness, swelling, and discomfort around the eye. Additional (less) common side effects include floaters, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light.

Rare Complications After Cataract Surgery

Uncommon but serious cataract surgery complications include:

  • Endophthalmitis: A serious infection of the eye
  • Dislocation of the intraocular lens
  • Retinal detachment
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Droopy eyes
  • Posterior capsule opacification (also called secondary cataracts)

Risk Factors for Cataract Surgery

The presence of underlying health issues or other eye problems may increase the risk of serious complications after cataract surgery.  In general, any condition that affects the structure or health of the eye or body may potentially increase the risk of complications after cataract surgery. It’s best to discuss pre existing conditions with your health provider before undergoing surgery.

Common risk factors associated with complications after cataract surgery are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Previous eye injuries or surgeries
  • Chronic use of steroid medications
  • Previous retinal detachment
  • Macular degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Corneal diseases

Complications After Cataract Surgery Explained

Cataract surgery is a very simple and effective procedure and is often the best choice for regaining vision and quality of life for someone who has a cataract. Over 4 million cataract surgeries are completed each year in the U.S. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), over 99.5 percent are successful and result in no serious problems. 

Today’s surgical and dental advancements have only made cataract surgery safer. Tools like lasers and digital diagnostic instruments allow for more effective and precise treatment. 

Still, there are rare but possible serious complications that can develop during or after cataract surgery. These include the following:


Some light sensitivity (photophobia) is normal after cataract surgery, but ongoing or severe light sensitivity can be indicative of eye swelling or inflammation. If a patient is experiencing light sensitivity longer than a few days after surgery, they should seek medical care.


Mild swelling is normal immediately after surgery, but swelling that is severe or lasts for more than a few days after surgery may need additional treatment, such as anti-inflammatory medications or eye drops.


Eye surgery, including cataract surgery, can increase pressure in the eye. This can affect vision and eye health, and it can even cause glaucoma. Ocular hypertension is usually treated with medication, eye injections, or eye drops. 


During cataract surgery, the cloudy natural lens of the eye is removed and replaced with a plastic artificial lens, called an intraocular lens (IOC). Part of the lens tissue, the capsule, is left in place during and after surgery to help keep the IOC in place. This part of the capsule can become foggy and cause vision problems, which is a condition known as posterior capsule opacity (PCO)

This is sometimes called secondary cataracts or after-cataracts, but it is not actually a cataract. In fact, this issue is affecting a different part of the eye than the part that was treated during the surgery. Cataracts cannot develop on the artificial lens. 

Posterior capsule opacity is the most common complication of cataract surgery and occurs in about 20 percent of people. It can develop anywhere from weeks to even years after the cataract surgery. It can cause vision loss if left untreated.

PCO is treated with YAG laser capsulotomy, a quick and painless outpatient procedure. PCO cannot develop a second time, so the procedure needs to be done only once.


Intraocular lens dislocation occurs when the artificial lens that was transplanted during cataract surgery becomes dislodged from the “capsular bag” in which it was placed. This can cause a patient to experience blurry vision or double vision. 

Intraocular lens discoloration is extremely rare, affecting approximately 0.1 percent of patients. It’s usually treated with surgery that replaces the lens or moves it back into place.  


A detached retina can occur months, and even years, after cataract surgery. This happens when the sensitive tissue at the back of the eyes moves (the retina) from its normal position. This separates the cells in the retina from the layer of blood vessels that supply oxygen and needed nutrients to the eye. 

The longer the retina is detached, the greater the risk of complete vision loss. A detached retina requires immediate care and surgery. 


Mild bleeding immediately after surgery isn’t abnormal and may be a common side effect. However, more serious or ongoing bleeding is indicative of a serious medical emergency. The bleeding may be a result of leaking blood vessels. Immediate care is needed to prevent vision loss. 


Droopy eyes (called ptosis) are common after surgery and usually disappear within a few weeks, if not sooner. Ongoing or severe ptosis may need to be treated with surgery. 

Cataract Surgery Complications in Elderly Patients

There is no age limit for cataract surgery – the procedure is regularly done on older patients, even people in their 80s and 90s. However, it can take longer for the eyes of elderly patients to heal completely after cataract surgery. The risk of postoperative complications is also slightly higher, such as eye inflammation and swelling. Anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed to address this issue, reducing the risk of negative side effects.

Uncommon & Serious Complications

Serious complications from cataract surgery are very rare. If vision loss does occur, it is likely the result of infection or bleeding within the eye.

It is possible that in a small number of patients, vision does not improve after their cataract surgery. If this is the case, it is likely that they have underlying eye disorders, such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. The presence of these conditions will likely require a combination of further treatments, such as medications, surgery, and vision aids.
However, for an overwhelming number of the people receiving cataract surgery, the procedure is painless, quick, and without significant problems, side effects, or complications.


  1. Cataract Surgery Complication Rates. (August 2008). Ophthalmology.
  2. Posterior Capsule Opacification. (March 2015). Kellogg Eye Center.
  3. Intraocular Lens Dislocation. (2016). American Society of Retina Specialists.
  4. The Risks and Benefits of Cataract Surgery. (October 2002). Digital Journal of Ophthalmology.
  5. Extreme Photophobia After Cataract Surgery. (March 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmologists.
  6. Cataract and Diabetic Retinopathy. (September 2011). Community Eye Health.
  7. Possible Side Effects and Complications after Cataract Surgery. (2021). AARP.
  8. What Are the Risks of Cataract Surgery? VisionAware.org.
  9. Posterior Capsule Opacification. University of Michigan Health System.
  10. Retinal Detachment. (December 2022). StatPearls.

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