While not a retinal problem, cataracts can “return” and can mimic the symptoms of the original cataract; blurred vision, glare and distortion. This can usually be remedied by a simple painless laser procedure called a YAG capsulotomy.
Cataract Surgery with Implant
Like grey hair, everyone gets cataracts. With time, the natural lens of the eye clouds with time. This clouding decreases vision. The lens is similar to an “M&M” piece of candy both in size and shape. An M&M is a core of milk chocolate surrounded by a candy coated shell.
When cataract surgery is performed, the cataract surgeon cuts a hole in the outside candy coating. The “chocolate” (core of the lens) is then sucked out leaving the empty candy coated shell. In the real eye, this shell is actually a clear tissue very similar to plastic wrap used to cover food. This shell is called the “capsular bag.”
Once the cloudy natural lens material is removed, a clear plastic implant is used to replace the natural lens. Vision is restored.
Plastic Wrap Gets Dirty
With time, from weeks to years, this clear plastic wrap-like material can get cloudy. The original symptoms of blurry vision and glare return. Decreased vision from “posterior capsule opacification” occurs in almost every cataract patient.
Using a “laser” to Restore Vision
A YAG laser is a type of laser that uses its energy to cut. By focusing the laser beam on the back portion of the candy coating shell, just behind the implant, a small hole is created. This removes the cloudy/hazy tissue out of the line of sight and vision is restored.
Does the Implant Fall
Properly performed, a YAG capsulotomy will not cause the implant to move. While it has happened (and to me!), it is unusual as the implant is usually scarred in place.
In theory, there may be a slight increased risk of a retinal tear that could lead to a retinal detachment.
What Does This Mean?
Many of my patients have had cataract surgery. It is a relief when we find the cause of the decreased vision is only due to PCO (posterior capsule opacification) and not due to diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration.
Many people erroneously believe (and perpetuated by some docs) that cataracts “come back.” They don’t.
This is also why many people believe cataract surgery is performed with laser. It isn’t, but now you know why, and how, the rumor started.
67 replies on “When a Cataract Comes Back”
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As usual, I find this very informative. Can you clarify if it is typical for PCO to occur only once per implant, or is it something that tends to recur? Given that I’m on the younger end of the age range for cataract patients, I’m curious to know if I should expect repeated YAG capsulotomy procedures once I get around to having cataract surgery. Thanks.
Good question. The normally clear tissue becomes cloudy. The laser creates a hole in this tissue and does not recur. It is a one time problem.
Thanks. Hope this answered your question.
I have developed a cataract in my left eye. Here’s the clinker; I have had torn retinas in both eyes, macular holes in both eyes, two buckles (one had to be removed due to infection) and cataract surgery in both eyes. I have had a total of 8 eye surgeries (or was it 9?).
The current cataract is due to the scare tissue from the previous surgeries. I’m only 60 years old – my first surgery was in 2004.
Can you explain this to me and what can be done?
I am to assume that the current “cataract” is in fact clouding of the implant? You mentioned that you had cataract surgery to both eyes. A YAG laser is probably indicated now…compared to the other surgeries…a piece of cake!
All the best. You seem to have beaten all the odds!
Thanks for sharing.
Hello: I had cataracts surgery on Jan 17/11 (right eye) and on Jan 25/11 (left eye). My IOL’s are 9.5D AcrySoft IQ (right eye) and 12.5D + 2.25 Cyl AcrySoft Toric (left eye), both are monofocal lenses. I have no concerns with the right eye, but one week after surgery of the left eye I started having blurry vision in this eye; when I look at a light at night (i.e. oncoming cars) I see like a ball if light around it and radial beams of light in all directions. I saw the doctor the day after and he said there were cells forming behind the capsule. He performed Yag Laser capsulotomy three weeks later (Yesterday, Feb 25/11). I thought that the improvement is almost immediate but tonight, one and ½ days later I still don’t notice any improvement, only the light beams pattern changed. The eye pressure went up a bit. I am on Maxidex and Lumigan. He gave me a prescription for glasses that will give me 20/20 vision.
How long will it take until I see improvement after the Yag laser procedure ? Thank you in advance – Claudio. Feb 26/11.
If the symptoms are indeed due to the capsule or cells forming on the capsule, I’d expect rapid changes after the procedure.
Get the new specs and see if this changes anything. Make sure to follow up with your doc.
My wife is up for YAG capsulotomy, about 5 years out from cataract surgery. Once the posterior membrane is perforated, what would keep the aqueous fluid from leaking? Also, is there risk that the effect of the YAG laser would change the rear face of the implant lens? Thank you
The aqueous fluid normally goes “around” the lens as it migrates from the vitreous cavity to the anterior chamber. There is also no true redirection of fluid as the posterior membrane is pretty adherent to the adjacent implant. Also, standard of care used to be (before implants) to simply remove the entire lens including the capsule.
The rear face of the implant can get “dinged” if the laser is not focused properly. Even so, there is usually little impact on the vision (in my experience.).
Dear Dr. Wong. Regarding my question of Feb 27/11 (Halos after caratacs surgery).
My Dr, checked my vision and found that the capsulotomy of the left eye went well, the Toric lens is in the correct axis and the eye pressure is normal. He said there is a huge clowdy mass inside the eye, similar to a floater but it doesn’t move; he doesn’t know how it got there. To remove it would mean another surgery but I see “too well” to justify it.
He prescribed me Pilocarpine which I have been using it for 4 days. The halos go away almost completely after 45 minutes of applying the drop and this helps me to read and to work at the computer. However, I see darker at night with this eye although I don’t notice difference in light intensity during the day. I got my new prescription glasses and I am surprised how well I see, but I am still very sensitive to light and I have to wear a sun shield outdoors. I have a follow-up appointment in six months.
Thank you for your help.
If this is in the vitreous, have it checked by a retina specialist for his/her opinion.
Dear Dr. Wong,
I had YAG laser treatment earlier today and my vision is back to normal, it is miraculous! However, I wondered if I will have to have the YAG laser ever again in my life? and if there is a chance another secondary membrane could emerge a few years down the line?
Thanks for you help in advance, and can I thank you for this very informative page. It has been very reassuring for me over the last few weeks!
Technically the “membrane” can not return. The laser created a hole in the normally clear tissue that holds the implant. The clear tissue because cloudy and blurred your vision. This does not grow back.
On rare occasion some cells may proliferate (grow) around the edges of the newly created hole and mimic the membrane returning. These “Elschnig Pearls” can be treated with the laser.
Had Yag yesterday for ACP and PCO Anterior 100% better! (no more streaks-halos!!) Vision is still blurry 24 hrs post op.. How long can it take to become as clear as it will be?
Awesome news! I’d expect pretty quick results within a week or so…but everyone varies.
I have had both cataracts done in February of this year, and, during a pre-LASIK consult (to correct left-over astigmatism) was found to be in need of a YAG procedure. Will I still be able to have the astigmatic correction? I’ve had previous LASIK.
I don’t perform LASIK or other refractive procedures, but I believe the YAG (a procedure performed to the tissue holding your implant) and astigmatism to be completely unrelated…you should be fine to correct the astigmatism (a problem of the curvature of the cornea).
Dear Dr Wong –I had cataract surgery of left eye on 23 April 2012 come out good but then I had right eye surgery for cataract, on 28 May2012 I have cloudy and hazy vision, after 3 weeks I had yag laser on21 june 2012 and again on july 4 I had second yag lase but I still see cloudy vision after 3 days gone by. I have floaters too. I have another appointment on july 18, please advice for any treatment as still I donot notice improvement,still vision is hazy and cloudy.
Most likely your symptoms are due to the recent YAG. If you feel your vision is worse, please tell your doctor.
Dear Dr Wong
I had cataract done on my left eye 2 months ago and during the recent followup, the doctor said he saw a weakness (thinning) in my retina and advise me to do a laser to ensure that there will not be a tear later on. This is only a precaution and also to protect my good eye. This is because my other eye previously had retinal detachment and my vision in this eye is never back to normal and he wants to ensure that my left eye will not get retinal detachment. Pls advise me on what best to do.
Thank you so much in advance for your feedback.
I believe your doctor is advising you well. If you’ve already had a retinal detachment in one eye and there is weakness/thinning (is this lattice degeneration?) in the other eye, laser should reduce the chance of retinal detachment.
Dear Dr. Wong:
I had cataract surgery first in the left eye and then right, Nov. and Dec. 2011. I had YAG on the right eye in January and all was well. In the last couple of months, I have had a “smudge” (for example, I am always trying to clean my reading glasses) in the middle of my right eye’s field of vision..particularly noticeable when reading. I have been back to my surgeon, well known and respected, who referred me to a retina specialist although she did not think I have a serious issue. The retina specialist (from Bascomb Palmer), also assured me nothing is wrong but dry eye and to use whatever refresh type drops 4 to 5 times a day…I have been for two weeks now and see no difference. It feels as if I still have a cataract on that eye. Any suggestions? Thank you, Margarita
I can only recommend you follow the advice you’ve been given. Dry eye can be difficult to manage. 2 weeks is not necessarily too long. Make sure you speak to your doctor about these specific concerns.
HI. I had a Cataract Surgery back in 1995. About a month Ago I had YAG laser surgery. before the surgery my vision was 20/40 three weeks later it’s still 20/70 or 20/80. My eye was swollen for over 2 weeks and my pressure shot up over 50/55 that day of the surgery and later that night. Thurs the Retina Doctor looked at it and said I now need Vitrectomy Surgery. I’m getting a second opinion. My question is it normal for the vision to get this bad after YAG surgery. And the added headaches that I never used to have.
Dear Henry G,
Your particular situation sounds complicated. I would take the advice you’ve been given as I am unable to examine you myself. The headaches could be from the high eye pressure which should be addressed quickly.
My eye pressure is around 22-24 last time and the headache have lessen. the vision haven’t improved. I’m getting A second opinion this week. Don’t want to have holes poke in the eye If I don’t have too. But the First evaluation came back as the film from the YAG surgery instead of dropping to the bottom of the eye float back in front of the pupil/retina and is blocking the light/vision. But it still don’t explain the increased level of eye pressure to me. if I don’t treat it eventually it will lead to or probably lead to glaucoma. I’m reciting off of memory and didn’t write anything down. Though it would just clear up in a few weeks. but now being a little worried I’m googling and asking question. I also Though they said part of the lens have floated in front of the eye/pupil?
Dear Henry G.,
Give us an update.
Sometimes inflammation can occur from a YAG. Also, it is possible that lens fragments get stirred up from the YAG… causing the pressure to increase.
Hope the second opinion went well.
Who performs the YAG laser treatment and is it done in the OR ?
A physician, usually a general ophthalmologist, performs the YAG laser. It is not performed in the OR, but in the office.
After Cataract Surgery in August, 2012, within a few weeks, a ‘SMUDGE-LIKE’ appeared in this left eye. doctor did the Laser surgery, but it didn’t correct the problem. Doctor has told me I have good eyes with no detachments, no retenal problems of any kind. (I have no problems with right eye). Vision 20/20…only use reading glasses. What can be done to correct this ‘SMUDGE?’ It’s like the lens has a fingerprint over it?
Thanks for much.
Dear Shirley deLong,
I really can’t tell what’s causing the smudge….because I can’t examine you. It could be so many things.
Thanks. A very helpful description.
Thanks for the inquiry. Your support is always appreciated.
I am so worried.
when I was 7, I got hit by a stone in the eye. They said I would be blind.
But after 2 weeks of some ointment and daily dressing my R eye could see again. Ever since I remember, I could never stand glare.
At ageg 23 I was told I had traumatic cataract on my R eye. I did not start wearing reading glasses until age 45.
I noticed a quick progression in my vision. I decided to have cataract surgery four weeks ago with high hopes.
From day one I noticed my R eye was better than my L. I was so happy.
On end of second week I noticed a hazy film over my vision although I could read without my glasses. On post op check up at week 3, I was booked to have YAG procedure tomorrow. Everyday my “secondary cataract is getting worse. Now my R eye can hardly read, I am so worried. I keep being told it is not uncommon. I want to hear an expert opinion who does not know me, please.
Please inform me. What went wrong. my reaction happened too soon. Please tell me what is my prognosis?
Am I gonna be blind? Is it because of my initial trauma?
I was only told this usually happens to 20% of patients 2-3 years down the line. I read the issue about “if this is a trauma related cataract, I should expect worse outcomes”?
thank you for your response.
Sounds like you should improve with YAG. Traumatic cataracts may be difficult to remove, but sounds like that occurred without and problem. Also seems as though you have a very competent doctor.
Your prognosis is as good as your vision was just after surgery.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist
Thank you very much for your response, I feel so much better.
This is day 4 after YAG. There is still a hazy film that fades or dakens but I can read with this eye much better than my L. I got floaters too but the white flashes diappeared totally. Sometimes I feel the fluid in my eye moving in front of my vision which is happening less now.
But after reading your answer, it is so comforting, I will just take your word for it. I will not worry anymore.
Thank you very very much for taking the time.
Best of luck. Stay well. Advise your doctor of any vision changes.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist
I had cataract surgery 3 months afo. My vision is very cloudy in the surgical eye. Do you think PCO surgery is indicated? My vision test have been good, but my vision is very blurry, and at time has a tendency to flicker and sometimes gets much worse affecting my balance.
The only way to tell is get examined and have your doc look specifically at the clarity of the implant. The same symptoms could be caused by a variety of issues, not just PCO.
Hi I wondered if you could help me I had yag laser yesterday I am 37 years old and am concerned that I feel no improvement as yet my vision still appears cloudy am I being impatient ? I would be grateful if you could get back to me
It often takes several days for the vision to improve. If the vision becomes worse, make sure to call your doc.
Thank you for your quick response I really do appreciate this, I feel it is no worse but also no better! But as i say it is only just coming up to 24 hours after my procedure , My eye aches a bit too. Is all this just normal then it was just that I expected for my vision to be clear this morning.
Not usually painful, but I prescribe an anti-inflammatory.
Hang in there.
Thanks for responding i will do 🙂
Happy to do so!
Had to go back to the hospital to be checked over my eye is no clearer the doctor said they could clean it up with more laser but I also have scaring at the back of my eye ( from the cataract surgery I think) so now waiting t go for a scan of my eye hope it gets sorted soon its worrying me and my vision at night is dreadful. Fingers crossed il be sorted soon. Hope they can do something
Hope you are OK.
After about 5 years of cloudy vision with severe glare during the day and starbursts and halos making driving at night impossible, I had cataract surgery with a toric lens for a posterior subcapsular cataract on my left eye on April 24th, 2013. After they removed the patch the next day, I could already tell there was still come cloudiness. It is a different glare and cloudiness than it was before the surgery but bothersome. My doctor said we would do the YAG laser in about three months after complete healing but I am concerned, especially after reading the above comments, that maybe I have a different problem. You stated that cloudiness “could be caused by a variety of issues, not just PCO” — what are some of these other issues? Should he be able to tell for sure what the problem is before trying the YAG?
FYI, I was very myopic (-8.25) and also have a small posterior subcapular cataract in the right eye but it is not as debilitating as the right eye was(and still is). Thank you
One of the difficulties when writing a blog is that I can’t the exact cause every reader. From what you describe, if your doc has already talked to you about a YAG, then this is the likely problem…especially with a posterior subcapsular cataract.
Cloudiness can be from the cataract, cloudy vitreous, PCO, epimacular membrane.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Sorry, my last line should have read: FYI, I was very myopic (-8.25) and also have a small posterior subcapular cataract in the right eye but it is not as debilitating as the LEFT eye was(and still is).
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
I had Tecnis mulifocal done in both eyes re: farsightedness (+7) and everything went well. The surgeon stated I would need the YAG in about 3 mos re: ‘fibrosis’. I was elated with the implant results, corrected to 20/25 and 20/30! and not experiencing any problems, yet I agreed to the YAG. The first eye was done 5/8 and the vision got worse. I will not bore you with details about trying to get through to the surgeons office to get back in but suffice to say, many superb doctors have fools working in their offices. At any rate, they eye checked out fine, no problems, macula ok, etc. I was given Prolensa and asked to return in two weeks which I did. My eye continues hazy, I lost mid near vision which I had before the YAG. The surgeon either does not believe me or has no answers except everything looks good.. He put me in touch with the Tecnis rep who listened kindly but is first a sales person. After 3 bottles of Prolensa, Blink eyedrops, and Blink and Clear – nothing is helping. At least your website validates that people DO experience non-published complications of YAG. I go not blame the surgeon, but feel these issues should be reported to the FDA as potential complications of YAG. . I am likely stuck with the problem and will need glasses for some things WHICH I DID NOT NEED BEFORE THE YAG. Other sites say how wonderful YAG is and that there are no potential issues except floaters. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Thanks for allowing this post, if you do. Your site makes me feel I am not alone or nuts.
While I can not cite any references, my experience with hyperopic patients (farsighted like you) has been frustrating. Over the years I’ve had several patients who didn’t respond well to typical procedures….such as cataract surgery, YAG or repair of macular hole (I guess I’ve had 3!).
Vision, like you, worsened. No explanation. No recollection of significant improvement.
I’d also search for other causes…perhaps the decreased vision was not due to the fibrosis?
Just my thoughts.
Hi Dr. I just had a Yag procedure done here the other day as I thought it was the cause of my cloudy vision on my left eye. I had some opacification after a cataract surgery done a little over a year ago but I see now that my vision is just as cloudy after the procedure. Therefore i have regrets, and im in a little distress as to what this cloudiness (fog) can be. Ive had 4 macula-on detachment surgeries. The first one was major and the last 3 was minor repairwork. I understand i now have a very watery vitreous after 2 of the surgeries were vitrectomies.
I live an active lifestyle and i also do extreme sports and now im actually afraid of my vitreous leaking through the hole in the capsule, and that I have to take it easy. Is this at all possible or should I just do what i want?
No fear or complications of fluid moving forward through the capsule…all fluid gets to the front of the to the anterior chamber and is drained.
Do what you want!
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Fairfax, VA 22030
Hi Dr. Wong,
I had a monofocal lens implant (Nanoflex) right eye. Had wonderful 20/20 vision for at least 3 mos. After Yag, vision now about 20/30, but I can see clearly when I put my chin to my chest and look up —- strange! I do have bilateral posterior vitreous separation and in the right eye lasered horseshoe tear, mild epiretinal membrane, and a hard druse on the fovea. Just saw on a report that I also have very mild Fuch’s Corneal Dystrohy. Could this have caused vision to be 20/30 after Yag & not go back to 20/20 pre Yag?
Possibly due to Fuchs’, but the timing doesn’t jibe. I’d look for another cause, perhaps the epiretinal membrane?
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Fairfax, VA 22030
I have cataract surgery 2 years ago, went from 20/500 to 20/25 and 20/30. Then gradually developed deteriorating vision because of PCO to 20/50 and 20/60. Had YAG laser capsulotomy to both eyes one week ago. Successful in right eye to 20/20 but worse in left eye to 20/70. Doctor very experienced, has no idea what happened. Did a thorough examination and several tests in the office and cannot give me an explanation of what went wrong. He initially put me on Acular anti-inflammatory drops three times a day. Told me to stop the Acular. Do you think there is a chance the vision in my left eye will clear at this point? I am very depressed about this. Thanks for your reply.
I have no idea what may have happened, but sounds unusual. I would therefore think you’ll recover.
Don’t be depressed….doesn’t help anything or anyone.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Fairfax, VA 22030
i expecyed my vision to get better after laser treatment to remove cloudiness from back of cataract, but now after about 3 days, it is worse. will this get better since maybe not healed yet. also, i am very worried that cigarette smoke entered this eye with burning feeling from smoke going under my glasses. will tear drops help in addition to medicated drops. very scared and worried because my vision is worse now than before. wish i never agreed to this procedure, since i had 20/30 vision after cataract surgery.
Stick close to your doctor. Let him/her know your vision is worse.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Fairfax, VA. 22030
I have secondary cataract in my right eye . . .
My vision was fine for two years after sugary, now its so blurred it’s very difficult to see anything out of it. First they said it could be cleared up with laser, after a second examination they said laser wouldn’t be effective, because the cloudy film was fused on the front and back of the lens, making it too thick.
Have you ever seen this happen in any of your patients before, if so are there other options than laser?
To answer your question – yes. I’ve seen 1-2 times (that’s all) where the haziness was on the front of the lens and was too thick for Yg laser. I have tried to mechanically clean the implant by operating.
I am 42 years of age and had cataract and yag laser surgery two weeks ago.The capsule is still hanging around the pupil area causing me to see starbursts and its like looking through wax paper.I had a victricomy 12 years ago and have saline solution in my eye so floaters are always gone with in a day.my question is why is the capsule still around and will it leave soon because its giving me headaches and hard to see through it?
After only two weeks, I believe anything can happen – quite possible the capsule can move over to the side.
How long should I wait before I call the docs office and set up an appointment to laser the capsule piece that’s obstructing my vision?Its going on the 4th week now.
In my opinion, get it done if your vision is affected. Many surgeons will probably wait at least 6 weeks before considering a YAG but this is surgeon dependent.