Updated on  September 6, 2022
5 min read

Is Cataract Surgery Painful?

3 sources cited
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Cataract Surgery & Potential Side Effects

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.

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The eye surgeon uses tiny tools to cut into your eye, break up the lens, and extract 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:

  • Swelling, bleeding, or infections
  • Vision loss or double vision
  • Unusual changes in eye pressure
  • Retinal detachment
  • Secondary cataract (posterior capsule opacity)

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. 

Does Cataract Surgery Hurt?

In most cases, patients feel little or no discomfort or pain 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 desensitize your eyes so you don't 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. 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.

It is common to 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. 

What Anesthesia Do They Give You for Cataract Surgery?

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.

What Happens if You Blink During Cataract Surgery?

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.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Cataract Surgery?

Most people heal in 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.

Healing & Recovery Tips

There are several eye care healing and recovery tips to follow for a quick, safe, and pain-free cataract surgery recovery.

These include:

  • Avoid driving on the first day following surgery
  • Avoid any strenuous activity or heavy lifting for a few weeks
  • Avoid bending over immediately after surgery. This prevents extra pressure on the eye
  • Avoid sneezing or vomiting immediately after surgery, if possible
  • Walk around carefully following surgery. Avoid bumping into doors or other objects
  • Avoid swimming or using a hot tub the first week of recovery. This helps prevent infection
  • Avoid exposing your eye to irritants during the first few weeks of recovery. This includes dust, dirt, pollen, and wind
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes following cataract surgery

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.

How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost?

Without insurance, the average cost of cataract surgery is between $3,500 and $7,000 per eye in the United States. However, Medicare and private insurance plans often cover all, or a portion of the costs, which can reduce your out-of-pocket expenses by 80 percent or more.

Speak with a qualified health care provider in order to find out if you're a candidate for cataract surgery.

Updated on  September 6, 2022
3 sources cited
Updated on  September 6, 2022
  1. Cataract surgery, National Eye Institute (NIH), 2019, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/cataracts/cataract-surgery 
  2. Cataract removal, MedlinePlus, 2020, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002957.htm 
  3. 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/
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