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Upper Eyelid Reconstruction Procedures

  • Author: Mounir Bashour, MD, PhD, CM, FRCSC, FACS; Chief Editor: Lars M Vistnes, MD, FRCSC, FACS  more...
Updated: May 03, 2015


Tumor excision and trauma are 2 common causes of eyelid defects requiring surgical reconstruction. A wide variety of surgical techniques is available (see recent review by Mathijessen and van der Meulen[1] ) and the plastic or ophthalmic surgeon must be able to technically execute them to close the eyelid defects.

Preoperatively, several factors must be analyzed carefully, since they affect the surgical plan and outcome.[2] These factors include the size and orientation of the defect, patient's age, vascular supply to surrounding tissues, biologic behavior of the tumor, previous treatment, age of the wound, and other factors (eg, prior radiation treatment).


History of the Procedure

Procedures for repairing eyelid defects most likely have been around since the earliest surgeries. Since the beginnings of the specialties of plastic and oculoplastic surgery, new techniques have been introduced, and further refinements and modification of these techniques have occurred with the progression of time.



Eyelid defects are classified according to size and location. A common way of breaking down full-thickness defects is as follows:

  • For young patients (tight lids)
    • Small - 25-35%
    • Medium - 35-45%
    • Large - Greater than 55%
  • For older patients (lax lids)
    • Small - 35-45%
    • Medium - 45-55%
    • Large - Greater than 65%

A typical defect may involve 50% of the central portion of the upper eyelid. Obviously, defects may involve the combination of eyelid and canthi. Involvement of the eyelid margin should be noted. If the eyelid margin is spared, closure by local flap or skin graft may suffice. Once the margin is involved, surgical repair must restore the integrity of the eyelid margin.




Trauma is the most common cause leading to reconstruction of the lower lid. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the second most common cause of eyelid reconstruction. It is the most common eyelid malignancy and accounts for approximately 90% of eyelid tumors.



As stated above, the 2 causes of defects requiring reconstruction are tumors and trauma.

BCC is the most common eyelid malignancy. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), sebaceous cell carcinoma (SebCC), and cutaneous melanoma are other neoplasms that involve the eyelids.

In addition to surgical excision of tumors, eyelid defects may result from trauma or burns, or they may be congenital.



Patients can present with a lid tumor for primary excision or after excision performed by another surgeon (commonly, after Mohs surgery performed by a dermatologist).

Patients also may present after acute trauma or for secondary reconstruction sometime after primary repair posttrauma.



Reconstruction is indicated for all defects that may lead to secondary complications if not repaired. These complications may include lid notching, epiphora, corneal exposure, and lagophthalmos.


Relevant Anatomy

The upper eyelid can be separated into 2 main layers or lamellae, anterior and posterior. The arterial anatomy of the eyelids and the importance to eyelid reconstruction has been described by Erdogmus and Gosva.[3]

Structures that must be considered in a description of lid anatomy are the skin and subcutaneous tissue; the orbicularis oculi muscle; the submuscular areolar tissue; the fibrous layer, consisting of the tarsi and the orbital septum; the lid retractors of the upper and lower eyelids; the retroseptal fat pads; and the conjunctiva. For more information about the relevant anatomy, see Eyelid Anatomy.



Standard contraindications for surgical procedures apply.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Mounir Bashour, MD, PhD, CM, FRCSC, FACS Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, McGill University Faculty of Medicine; Clinical Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Sherbrooke University; Medical Director, Cornea Laser and Lasik MD

Mounir Bashour, MD, PhD, CM, FRCSC, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American College of International Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Biomedical Engineering Society, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Ophthalmological Society, Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, International College of Surgeons US Section, Ontario Medical Association, Quebec Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Jorge I de la Torre, MD, FACS Professor of Surgery and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Chief, Division of Plastic Surgery, Residency Program Director, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine; Director, Center for Advanced Surgical Aesthetics

Jorge I de la Torre, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Burn Association, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, American Society of Maxillofacial Surgeons, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, Association for Academic Surgery, Medical Association of the State of Alabama

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Lars M Vistnes, MD, FRCSC, FACS Professor of Surgery, Emeritus, Stanford University Medical Center

Lars M Vistnes, MD, FRCSC, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Neal R Reisman, MD, JD Chief of Plastic Surgery, St Luke's Episcopal Hospital; Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine

Neal R Reisman, MD, JD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Lipoplasty Society of North America, Texas Medical Association, Texas Society of Plastic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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(A) The correct pentagonal wedge excision that should be used in the upper lid. (B) and (C) Incorrect wedge excisions leading to lid notching and kinking.
Layered suture closure of lid margin defect.(A) Excision of lesion. (B) 6-0 Vicryl sutures through tarsus. (C) Either 6-0 silk or 6-0 gut sutures for the margins. (D) Skin closure with interrupted 6-0 silk or 6-0 gut sutures.
(A) Large upper lid defect. (B) Tarsus conjunctival flap fashioned. (C) Flap moved horizontally to fill in defect, with edges sutured to orbital rim and levator remnants. (D) Lid margin suture placed. (E) Skin graft placed.
Tenzel flap for upper lid.
Cutler-Beard flap.
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