Updated on  September 20, 2023
5 min read

Is Cataract Surgery Painful?

6 sources cited
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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. Cataract surgery is the only way to remove cataracts.

During cataract 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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Does Cataract Surgery Hurt?

In most cases, you will or no discomfort or pain during cataract surgery. Steps are taken before and after the procedure to ensure you don’t experience any pain.

For instance:

  • Doctors apply anesthetic eye drops before surgery to desensitize your eyes so you don't feel anything during the procedure
  • In some cases, you may receive extra medication intravenously during surgery to ensure you remain comfortable without any eye pain
  • During the surgery, your cataract surgeon will ask how you are feeling
  • The medications used before and after surgery may also make it difficult for you to remember what happened during the procedure, despite being awake the entire time
  • You can use over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate any discomfort
  • Your eye surgeon will also give you medical advice on handling any post-surgical discomfort before you leave the eye center

Even though no general anesthesia is used during cataract surgery, most people don’t remember much of the procedure. 

What Happens During Cataract Surgery?

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.

Close up shot of a patient undergoing a cataract operation
Woman with eye open in hospital

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 have no eye issues.

After surgery, your eye may feel slightly itchy or uncomfortable. It may also feel sensitive to light and touch.

Are You Awake During Cataract Surgery?

You’re 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.

You’ll typically receive a mild sedative to relax on the day of surgery. Your doctor will apply numbing anesthetic eye drops to stop you from feeling anything. 

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, 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. 

Side Effects of Cataract Surgery

This type of eye surgery is one of the most common, effective, and safe surgeries 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)

Your eye doctor can treat these side effects if caught early. Attend all your checkups and speak to your doctor if you notice anything unusual with your eyes or vision.

Following cataract surgery, you 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 becomes cloudy. They can occur weeks, months, or even years following cataract surgery. Laser treatment can fix them.

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.

Female patient being transported through a wheelchair talks to a doctor after her cataract operation
Vietnamese doctor talking to female patient in a wheelchair

Your vision may be blurry initially while your eye recovers. Some may 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 fully heals, you may require a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses.

Healing & Recovery Tips

Several eye care healing and recovery tips exist 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 during 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 recovery, follow your eye doctor’s detailed instructions on eye care 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 $3,000 to $5,000 per eye in the United States.2

However, Medicare and private insurance plans often cover all or a portion of the costs. This can reduce your out-of-pocket expenses by 80 percent or more.

Speak with a qualified healthcare provider to determine if you're a candidate for cataract surgery.


Cataract surgery is a safe and effective procedure to improve your vision. Most people don't experience any pain during the surgery. However, following your doctor's instructions carefully during recovery is important to reduce the risk of infection or other complications. 

Updated on  September 20, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on  September 20, 2023
  1. "Cataract surgery." National Eye Institute (NIH), 2019. 

  2. "How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost?" UCF Health.

  3. Gurung R, Hennig A. "Small incision cataract surgery: tips for avoiding surgical complications." Community Eye Health, 2008.

  4. Allen D, Vasavada A. "Cataract and surgery for cataract." BMJ, 2006.

  5. Davis G. "The Evolution of Cataract Surgery." Mo Med, 2016.

  6. MIPS 2019-Cost: The Routine Cataract Surgery With IOL Implantation Measure.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, Aug 2022.

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