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How to Fix Lagophthalmos after Blepharoplasty Surgery

Blepharoplasty, commonly known as eyelid surgery, is performed to enhance the appearance of upper or lower eyelids by removing excess skin, tightening muscles, or redistributing fat. While this procedure is generally safe and effective, it can sometimes lead to complications, one of which is lagophthalmos. 

Lagophthalmos is a condition where the patient is unable to close their eyelids completely, due to reasons such as the eyelid skin being pulled too tight, potentially leading to severe eye discomfort and other health issues. In cases where lagophthalmos results from blepharoplasty, it is vital to consider whether the complication arose from surgical negligence. This is not just about dissatisfaction with cosmetic outcomes but identifying where procedures may have deviated from acceptable medical standards, leading to preventable harm. 

Here, we explore how lagophthalmos can occur after eyelid surgery, the implications of such a complication, and the options available for correcting it, underlining the importance of accountability in cosmetic surgery practices.

Understanding blepharoplasty and lagophthalmos

Blepharoplasty may involve the upper eyelids, lower eyelids, or both. The specific techniques used can vary: upper eyelid blepharoplasty typically focuses on removing excess skin and fat from the upper lids, while lower-lid blepharoplasty might address issues such as under-eye bags or droopiness.

Lagophthalmos occurs when there is an inability to close the eyelids fully. The gap between the upper and lower eyelids can cause dryness, exposure keratitis (inflammation of the cornea due to dryness), and even permanent damage to the eye if not addressed promptly. The normal blinking and lubrication mechanism of the eye is disrupted, leading to discomfort and potential vision problems.

Symptoms of lagophthalmos can vary but typically include:

  • Dryness and irritation in the eye

  • A feeling of grittiness or a foreign body sensation

  • Increased tear production as the eye tries to compensate for dryness

  • Sensitivity to light or blurred vision

Understanding the mechanics of eyelid closure is crucial for both patients and surgeons to manage expectations and prevent complications. Proper eyelid closure involves the smooth and complete meeting of the upper and lower eyelids. Any alteration in the natural architecture of the eyelids - such as through the removal of too much skin or overly aggressive alteration of the muscle - can impede this process, leading to lagophthalmos.

Causes of lagophthalmos post-blepharoplasty

Lagophthalmos following blepharoplasty is often the result of surgical missteps during the procedure. Identifying and understanding these causes is critical for both preventing this complication and addressing it if it occurs. Here are the primary surgical errors that can lead to lagophthalmos:

  1. Excessive removal of skin and tissue: this is the most common cause of lagophthalmos post-blepharoplasty. During eyelid surgery, precise amounts of skin and sometimes muscle are removed to achieve cosmetic enhancement. If too much skin is taken from the upper eyelids, or if the lower eyelid is overly tightened or excessively corrected, it can prevent the eyelids from closing fully. The delicate balance required in eyelid surgery underscores the necessity for a surgeon's accurate assessment and skilled technique.

  2. Improper surgical techniques: the techniques used during blepharoplasty must be meticulous. Incorrect techniques, such as inappropriate incision placement or improper suturing, can lead to complications like eyelid retraction or lid margin instability, both of which can contribute to lagophthalmos. The surgeon's expertise in handling the delicate tissues of the eyelid is paramount to ensuring functional and aesthetic outcomes are achieved without complications.

  3. Failure to account for pre-existing conditions: patients with certain pre-existing conditions such as thyroid eye disease, previous eyelid surgeries, or skin diseases affecting the eyelid may be at higher risk of developing complications like lagophthalmos. A thorough pre-operative evaluation should be conducted to identify any risk factors. Failure to modify the surgical approach based on these conditions can be a critical oversight.

  4. Variations in healing and individual anatomy: even with a flawless surgical technique, individual differences in healing and anatomical variations can lead to unexpected results. Some patients may experience more significant scarring, which can contract and pull the eyelid away from the eye. Surgeons should discuss these possibilities with patients as part of the informed consent process, highlighting that results can vary and subsequent corrective procedures might be necessary.

Each of these causes reflects potential areas where negligence can occur in the practice of cosmetic surgery. Whether the result of inadequate skill, insufficient patient assessment, or poor surgical planning and execution, these errors can lead to significant discomfort and the need for further medical intervention.

Legal aspects of negligence in cosmetic surgery

In the context of cosmetic surgery, including procedures like blepharoplasty, the legal concept of negligence involves a breach of the duty of care that a healthcare provider owes to their patients. This duty is based on the standards and practices accepted by the medical community for that particular treatment. Here, we explain the legal aspects surrounding negligence in cosmetic surgery that results in complications such as lagophthalmos.

  1. Standard of care: the standard of care is defined as the level and type of care an ordinarily prudent healthcare professional, with the same training and experience, would provide under similar circumstances in the same community. In cosmetic surgery, this includes performing procedures such as upper eyelid and lower eyelid blepharoplasty with the competence and skill that the profession demands. A deviation from this standard that results in harm, such as lagophthalmos due to excessive removal of eyelid skin or poor surgical technique, can constitute negligence.

  2. Informed consent: another crucial legal aspect is informed consent. Patients must be fully informed about the risks, benefits, alternatives, and potential outcomes of their surgery. This includes understanding the risks of complications like lagophthalmos. Failure to provide adequate information can lead to a claim of negligence if the patient suffers harm as a result of a risk they were not made aware of.

  3. Proving negligence: to prove negligence in a case of cosmetic surgery gone wrong, the claimant must establish several elements:

    • Duty: the surgeon had a duty to perform the procedure to a certain standard.

    • Breach: there was a breach of this duty due to actions or omissions that fell below the accepted standard of care.

    • Causation: the breach directly caused the complication. In the case of lagophthalmos, it would need to be shown that the surgical error led to the inability to close the eyelids completely.

    • Damage: the patient sustained actual damages as a result of the breach, such as additional medical costs, pain, suffering, and perhaps loss of earnings.

  4. Legal remedies: the remedies in cosmetic surgery negligence cases typically involve compensation for damages. These can include costs for corrective surgery, compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering, and sometimes punitive damages if the negligence is found to be particularly egregious.

  5. Documentation and expert testimony: successful legal action often hinges on detailed medical records and the testimony of medical experts. These experts can help establish what the standard of care is, how it was breached, and the causation between the breach and the harm suffered.

Treatment options for lagophthalmos

When lagophthalmos occurs following blepharoplasty, it is imperative to address the condition promptly to prevent further complications and improve patient comfort. Treatment strategies range from conservative measures to more invasive surgical interventions, depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Here, we discuss various treatment options available to manage lagophthalmos effectively.

  • Conservative management: initial treatment for mild cases of lagophthalmos often involves conservative measures to protect the eye and maintain moisture. These may include:

    • Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops: to help keep the eye moist and reduce symptoms of dryness and irritation.

    • Eye ointments: thicker than drops, these can be used at night to prevent the cornea from drying out while sleeping.

    • Taping the eye closed at night: this temporary solution can help protect the eye during sleep until further corrective measures can be taken.

  • Physical therapy and exercises: in cases where lagophthalmos is partially due to muscle weakness or imbalance after surgery, targeted exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the eyelids, improving their functionality and closure.

  • Surgical correction: if conservative treatments do not alleviate the symptoms, or if the lagophthalmos is more severe, surgical interventions may be necessary:

    • Revision blepharoplasty: this procedure can adjust the previous modifications made during the initial eyelid surgery, correcting over-removal of skin or misplacement of surgical incisions.

    • Skin grafts and flaps: for significant cases where there is a pronounced lack of skin, grafts or flaps from other areas of the body or the upper eyelid itself may be used to lengthen the affected eyelid and facilitate closure.

    • Canthoplasty: this surgical procedure involves reconstructing the canthal tendons, which support the eyelid corners, to improve lid tightness and function.

    • Gold weight implantation in the upper eyelid: this is used in cases where the eyelid muscles cannot completely close the lid. The implant helps mechanically by adding weight to assist in eyelid closure.

  • Addressing underlying causes: if lagophthalmos is exacerbated by other medical conditions such as thyroid eye disease, treatment of the underlying condition can also alleviate the symptoms of lagophthalmos.

  • Follow-up and adjustment: post-surgical care is crucial. Regular follow-up visits allow the surgeon to monitor the healing process and make adjustments if necessary. These visits are vital to ensure that the corrective measures are effective and that the eye remains protected during recovery.

The choice of treatment should be tailored to the individual needs of the patient, taking into account the severity of the lagophthalmos, the specific anatomical considerations, and the patient's overall health. A multidisciplinary approach may be necessary, involving ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, and other specialists to ensure comprehensive care.

Preventing lagophthalmos in eyelid surgery

Preventing complications such as lagophthalmos in eyelid surgery is pivotal for ensuring patient safety and satisfaction. By adhering to meticulous surgical planning, proper technique, and comprehensive patient assessment, surgeons can significantly reduce the risk of this serious complication. Here are key strategies to prevent lagophthalmos in both upper and lower eyelid surgeries:

  1. Thorough pre-operative evaluation: a detailed assessment of the patient's medical history and current health status is essential. This evaluation should include a careful examination of the eyelids' anatomy and function. Understanding factors such as skin quality, elasticity, and previous ocular or eyelid surgeries can inform the surgical approach and reduce risks.

  2. Realistic patient selection and expectations: not all patients are suitable candidates for eyelid surgery. Surgeons must assess whether the patient’s expectations can be met safely and effectively. Clear communication about the realistic outcomes and potential risks of the procedure is crucial.

  3. Conservative surgical planning: when planning the surgery, it is better to be cautious, especially with how much skin and tissue are removed. Overcorrection can be difficult, if not impossible, to remedy without further surgery. Surgeons should employ precise measurements and techniques tailored to preserve enough tissue to maintain normal eyelid function.

  4. Use of advanced surgical techniques: employing the latest surgical techniques can help minimise the risk of complications. Techniques such as laser blepharoplasty may offer more precision and control, potentially reducing the likelihood of removing too much tissue.

  5. Intraoperative assessment: during the procedure, surgeons should regularly check the function of the eyelid by having the patient perform closure during surgery if possible. This allows immediate adjustments to be made before the surgery is completed.

  6. Postoperative care and early intervention: proper aftercare is essential to prevent complications. Patients should be instructed on how to care for their eyes immediately following surgery, including the use of lubricating eye drops or ointment to keep the eye moist. Early recognition and intervention at the first signs of complications can lead to better outcomes and prevent the progression of symptoms.

  7. Continuing education for surgeons: surgeons should continually update their skills and knowledge. Attending workshops, seminars, and training on the latest advancements in eyelid surgery can enhance their techniques and understanding of how to prevent complications like lagophthalmos.

  8. Multi-disciplinary approach: in some cases, consulting with other specialists such as ophthalmologists can provide additional insights into the best surgical strategies and preventive measures, especially for patients with pre-existing ocular conditions.

Contact us today

If you have experienced problems following eyelid surgery and think they are the result of negligence, you may be entitled to make an eyelid surgery claim for compensation. Talk to our expert cosmetic surgery negligence team today. Call 0808 273 2903 or request a callback by completing the contact form.

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Mike Saul


Michael Saul is a partner at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors, where he brings his extensive specialist legal expertise and passion for helping people to the forefront of his work. With a proven track record of success in cosmetic surgery negligence cases, Michael has dedicated his career to providing clients with the highest level of representation and achieving favourable outcomes.

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