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What Is Posterior Capsular Opacity?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Posterior capsular opacity is an eye condition characterized by the formation of secondary cataracts on the back the eye’s lens following cataract surgery. Known as posterior capsular opacification, secondary cataract development is not uncommon and is frequently associated with lens replacement. Individuals with posterior capsular opacity usually undergo laser treatment to correct residual haziness.

During cataract surgery, the damaged, or clouded, lens is removed and an artificial lens may be repositioned to replace it. The implanted lens is placed in the same position within the eye’s capsule as the natural lens. As the eye adjusts to the replacement lens, cellular activity within the capsule can trigger a clouding of the artificial lens, known as posterior capsular opacity. With time, continued cellular activity contributes to a hazing of the lens that impairs one’s vision. To correct posterior capsular opacity, an in-office procedure known as posterior capsulotomy may be performed.

Before a cataract may be diagnosed, a comprehensive eye examination is performed. An individual’s visual acuity is evaluated and he or she is given an eye examination. In order to assess the back side of the retina, specialized eye drops are often administered to dilate the pupil. An instrument known as an opthalmoscope, which is outfitted with a curved mirror that allows for a better view of the inner eye, is used to check for abnormalities. It is not uncommon for an ophthalmologist to also use a slit-lamp that utilizes focused light to further examine the inner workings of the eye, including the cornea.

Cataracts form when the lens of one’s eye deteriorates. Whether the degeneration is due to age or disease, an eye’s lens loses its ability to focus light. With the loss of focus, images become clouded or hazy leading to diminished vision. Cataracts may form on any part of the lens, such as on the front, back, or edge of the lens. The location of the cataract will generally dictate the degree and presentation of one’s symptoms.

Cataract symptoms are dependent on the location and severity of the opacity. Some people experience clouded or dimmed vision that progressively worsens. Others may see rings or halos that hover over natural and artificial sources of light, especially at night. As a cataract progresses, one’s vision may undergo pronounced changes and he or she may suddenly develop light sensitivity.

Individuals with cataracts don’t necessarily have to seek treatment upon receiving a diagnosis. If one’s vision has not been significantly impacted, surgery can usually wait. For those who do seek treatment, surgery does not require a hospital stay. Anyone who undergoes lens replacement during cataract surgery is at risk for posterior capsular opacity, or secondary cataract development. As with any medical procedure, cataract surgery does carry some risk for complication, including retinal detachment.

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