What Are the Risks of Cataract Surgery?

By Tina D. Turner, M.D.

All surgery entails risk. Fortunately, with favorable outcomes at approximately 98%, cataract surgery is highly successful. There is still potential for serious complications, however, some of which can result in pain, permanent loss of vision, or even loss of the eye.

Complications and Risks of Cataract Surgery

These complications can include infection, retinal detachment, inflammation inside the eye, swelling in certain parts of the eye, retention of a piece of the cataract inside the eye, glaucoma, hemorrhage (bleeding), possible worsening of certain eye conditions (such as diabetic retinopathy), and failure to improve vision if other eye diseases are present (such as macular degeneration). Sometimes, these complications may require further treatment or surgery in an attempt to repair them.

Tina D. Turner, M.D., VisionAware's Resident Cataract Specialist

Tina D. Turner, MD

Dr. Turner is a staff comprehensive ophthalmologist at Henry Ford Health System's Grosse Pointe Ophthalmology. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tennessee with a BA in chemistry, received her MD degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and completed her ophthalmology residency at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center.

She lectures widely on many topics in ophthalmology to ophthalmology residents, family medicine residents, emergency medicine residents, ophthalmic technicians, surgical technicians, and patients.

Dr. Turner is the author of An Introduction to Cataracts and Cataract Surgery on the VisionAware website, where you can learn more about cataracts, including:

Endophthalmitis

Endophthalmitis is a serious infection inside the eye that can develop after cataract surgery. Although many precautions are taken to prevent complications after cataract surgery, infection can still develop. The chance of developing infection after cataract surgery in the United States is approximately 0.1%.

Endophthalmitis after cataract surgery is usually the result of a bacterial infection. The most common bacteria found to be the culprits in this type of infection are the "staph" (staphylococcus) and "strep" (streptococcal) bacteria, which normally live on human skin.

Endophthalmitis usually develops in the first week after cataract surgery and causes a range of symptoms, including pain, redness, decreasing vision, eyelid redness or swelling, or a yellow/green discharge from the eye.

Should any of these symptoms develop after cataract surgery, it is extremely important to seek medical care immediately. The sooner endophthalmitis is treated, the better the prognosis for the eye and vision. Endophthalmitis is treated either with antibiotics injected into the eye or with surgery plus antibiotics injected into the eye. Even with treatment, the vision and the eye can be permanently damaged.

Retinal Detachment

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the inside surface of the eye, develops a hole or tear and subsequently detaches, or falls away, from the wall of the eye.

Once separated from the wall of the eye, the retina loses part of its blood supply; without a blood supply, the cells in the retina begin to die. Once lost, retinal cells do not regenerate.

It is the retina that is responsible for processing visual information and sending it to the brain. Thus, once the retina is damaged, it results in permanent loss of vision.

The chance of developing a retinal detachment after cataract surgery is approximately 1 in 3,000. If diagnosed early, a retinal tear can be treated with thermal laser photocoagulation. Retinal detachment usually requires surgical intervention.

It is important that you fully understand the risks, benefits, and alternatives to cataract surgery, and that you ask any questions and voice any concerns you may have. In order to make a well-informed decision to have surgery, it is extremely important that you fully understand these risks.

Personal Stories

  • Paul and Dorothy Johnson: A Daughter's Story
    Read Paul and Dorothy Johnson's story, written by their adult daughter. Dorothy had cataracts and Paul had macular degeneration and diabetes. Learn how the Johnsons and their daughter made the decision to live together.

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