Secondary cataracts

Cataracts can be successfully treated with surgery, which replaces your cloudy lens with a clear new artificial one. In a small number of cases, part of the capsule left within the eye to support the new lens after the operation, can itself become cloudy. This is called a secondary cataract, which may require laser treatment.

The information here relates to cataracts in adults. Some children can develop cataracts (congenital cataracts); these are usually dealt with in a different way to cataracts in adults.

How your eye works

Your eye is shaped like a round ball, with clear tissue at the front called the cornea. Light entering your eye through the cornea is focused by the lens onto the retina. The cornea does most of the work, while the lens ‘fine-tunes’ the focus.

The shape of your lens constantly changes to help you see things clearly in the distance and close up; this is called ‘accommodation of vision’. As you get older, your lens becomes less able to change its shape to focus properly. When this happens, most people can see clearly in the distance, but they aren’t as good at seeing things close up.

The lens of your eye can also be affected by a cataract. The lens is normally clear so that light passes directly through and focuses on your retina. The lens is clear because of the way its cells are arranged. When a cataract develops, it changes the way these cells are arranged, causing the lens to become cloudy instead of clear. This results in less light passing through the lens and a reduction in the quality of your vision.

If you’ve had surgery for cataracts, then some of the remaining tissue can itself become cloudy and require secondary cataract treatment. It is not known why this occurs, or why it affects some people but not others.

Secondary cataracts will only occur after you’ve had cataract surgery, and then only in a relatively small number of cases. Symptoms are similar to initial cataracts, with vision becoming increasingly blurry over time.

Your doctor or optometrist (optician) should be able to diagnose a secondary cataract after discussing your symptoms and a short examination. You may be referred for secondary cataract laser treatment.

YAG laser

​YAG laser treatment is used to correct a secondary cataract which appears in around 20% of cases after surgery to remove a cataract.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.