Answer provided by Dr. Mitchell Gossman, M.D., ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud

Question: Can cataracts grow back after surgery?

Well, yes, in a way. First, though, a review of what a cataract is and how it’s removed. The cataract is a clouding of the lens within your eye that is interfering with vision. The cataract happens to be about the same size and shape as an M&M candy. It’s also similar in that the cataract has two layers: The outer “candy shell” of the cataract is called the “capsule” and is a clear membrane similar to the outer membrane of an egg yolk. The “chocolate center” of the natural lens is what becomes cloudy, interfering with clear vision, and is removed during cataract surgery. The outer clear membrane “capsule” is left in place during surgery because it supports the artificial lens. The internal part of the lens is removed, but there are always some residual cells that are left behind. These cells in the natural lens are always multiplying and growing and continue to do the same after surgery; they multiply and grow and spread. This is in a way like the cataract continuing to try to grow back, but it doesn’t develop into a new complete lens. Instead, it creates a cloudy tissue on the capsule called “posterior capsule opacification.” This cloudy film blurs the vision and may seem somewhat like the same progressively blurrier vision that your cataract caused, so many patients wonder if it’s the cataract “growing back.” It is not.

Image of a cloudy posterior capsule. Contributed photo

Fortunately, you don’t have to go to the operating room to take care of this. This cloudy tissue is very delicate, so it is possible to treat this in the office with a laser. This “YAG laser” is used to cut this tissue open, the flaps of cloudy tissue separating and opening much like a flower opening its petals, and once again, light is able to pass undisturbed through the lens implant you have. It’s a bit like Zorro doing his thing with his sword to slice his “Z” in the villain’s shirt. The YAG laser is completely painless, very safe, and quick.

So, if your vision is worsening and you have had cataract surgery, get seen for evaluation, and you can impress your surgeon if you say “Maybe I have posterior capsule opacification, and if so, do I perhaps need a YAG?”

Find Out More

 Dr. Mitchell Gossman and Dr. Andrea Joplin, ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, can diagnose and treat macular degeneration. 

Eye Associates of Central Minnesota  is located at 628 Roosevelt Road, Suite 101, in St. Cloud. 

To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-774-3789 or email info@eaofcm.com.