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A cataract is a cloudy area found in the lens of your eye. It can make it challenging to see clearly. Eye surgery is the only way to remove cataracts.
During eye surgery, the eye doctor removes the cataract. The eye cataract is replaced with an artificial lens. This is called an intraocular lens.
The eye surgeon uses tiny tools to cut into your eye, breaking up the lens, and extracting the cataract. Your doctor then sets the new artificial lens into your eye.
Cataract surgery lasts approximately one hour. Following the procedure, you must rest in a recovery spot outside the operating room for a short time. Before you leave, a medical team will check to ensure you don’t have any issues with your eye.
After surgery, your eye may feel slightly itchy or uncomfortable. It may also feel sensitive to light and touch.
This type of eye surgery is one of the most common, effective, and safe surgery types performed in the United States. But like with any surgery, there are risks.
Potential risks of cataract surgery include:
If you experience any of these side effects, your eye doctor can treat them if they are caught early. Be sure to attend all your checkups and speak to your doctor if you notice anything unusual with your eyes or vision.
Following cataract surgery, some patients develop a condition called a secondary cataract. A secondary cataract is otherwise known as posterior capsule opacification.
However, secondary cataracts aren’t cataracts. Secondary cataracts occur when the lens capsule (a bag-like structure that contains the cataract, as well as the intraocular lens implant after surgery) becomes cloudy. They can occur weeks, months, or even years following cataract surgery. They can be fixed with laser treatment.
Are You Awake During Cataract Surgery?
Patients are usually awake during cataract surgery. During surgery, you may notice bright lights or motion. However, you won’t be able to see what your doctor is doing.
On the day of surgery, patients are typically given a mild sedative to help them relax. Your doctor will apply numbing anesthetic eye drops to stop you from feeling anything.
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There is little or no eye pain or discomfort during cataract surgery. Steps are taken before and after the procedure to ensure you don’t experience any pain.
The numbing anesthetic eye drops applied before surgery ensure that you do not feel anything during the procedure. In some cases, patients may receive extra medication intravenously during surgery to ensure they remain comfortable without any eye pain. During the surgery, your cataract surgeon will ask how you are feeling.
Many patients don’t remember much of their cataract surgery. This is even though no general anesthesia is used, which most surgical procedures require.
The medications used before and after surgery may also make it difficult for patients to remember what happened during the procedure, despite being awake the entire time.
As the medications wear off after surgery, you may experience some minor eye discomfort. However, any discomfort after the procedure is typically mild. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used short-term to alleviate any discomfort.
Your eye surgeon will also give you medical advice on how to handle any post-surgical discomfort before you leave the eye center.
Your surgeon will administer local anesthesia before the operation begins. This type of anesthesia numbs a specific area of your body so you don't feel anything during the procedure. In this case, your eye and eyelid will be numbed.
Local anesthesia will not put you to sleep. You can also request sedation, which is administered orally or through an IV. This medication helps reduce anxiety and discomfort.
During the surgery, your eyelid is held open. This may sound scary, but you will not feel anything because your eye and eyelid will be numb before the surgery begins.
Most people heal around eight weeks following cataract surgery. Your doctor will arrange checkups to ensure that your eye is healing properly.
It’s essential to avoid some activities for a few weeks to allow your eye to heal. These activities include bending over, lifting heavy items, and touching your eye.
Around nine out of ten people who undergo cataract surgery see better afterward. Your vision may be blurry initially while your eye recovers.
Some patients notice that colors seem brighter following eye surgery because the artificial lens is clear. Your natural lens may have had a yellow or brown tint from the cataract.
Once your eye is fully healed, you may require a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses.
There are several eye care healing and recovery tips to follow for a quick, safe, and pain-free cataract surgery recovery. These include:
For the most effective cataract surgery recovery possible, follow your eye doctor’s detailed instructions on eye care and how to protect it following the procedure. Usually, these instructions are given to you to take home with you on the day of surgery.
Cataract surgery, National Eye Institute (NIH), 2019, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/cataracts/cataract-surgery
Cataract removal, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002957.htm
Gurung, Reeta, and Albrecht Hennig., Small incision cataract surgery: tips for avoiding surgical complications., Community eye health vol. 21,65 2008: 4-5, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377379/