Updated on 

April 4, 2022

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Recovery After Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery Overview

Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure. It’s performed by an ophthalmologist. 

The procedure removes a dysfunctional eye lens and replaces it with an artificial clear lens. This lens is commonly known as an intraocular lens (IOL).1

Studies show about 28 million cataract surgeries are performed around the world each year. Approximately 4 million take place in the United States.

Cataract surgery aims to enhance your vision. If you have cataracts, your clear eye lens hardens and appears cloudy. 

Although the presence of cataracts may not harm your vision, severe cloudiness may cause blurred vision and glare from light. This is why most people seek cataract surgery.

Opthamologists may also combine cataract surgery with other procedures like glaucoma surgery.3

The artificial lenses inserted during cataracts are permanent and require no maintenance. The procedure usually takes about an hour or less.

Preparing for Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery is considered safe. But preparation is essential to ensure optimum results and to avoid complications.

Before surgery, your eye doctor will take measurements of your eyes with an ultrasound test. This determines the type of IOLs that will work for you. IOL choice is based on eye length and the curvature of the cornea.

Do the following to prepare for surgery:

  • Stop taking aspirin or anti-clotting drugs, as these may interfere with normal bleeding
  • Avoid wearing makeup such as mascara, eyeliners, and artificial eyelashes
  • On the surgery day, wash your face with soap and water
  • Abstain from drinking alcohol at least 24 hours before surgery
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses at least 3 days before surgery to reduce irritation
  • Ask a friend or family member to drive you home after surgery because you may experience blurry vision

If you take prostate medication such as Flomax, tell your doctor. These alpha-blockers interfere with iris muscles during cataract surgery, so they’ll likely recommend you stop taking them.

They will also advise you on what else to do and adjust your treatment accordingly to avoid serious complications.

Lastly, your doctor may recommend antibiotic eye drops a day or two before the surgery to prevent inflammation and infection.4

What to Expect After Cataract Surgery 

Immediately after cataract surgery, you may experience some discomfort or itching for a few days. It’s important to not rub or squeeze your eyes. Doing so will interfere with healing. 

Your eye doctor may prescribe eye drops and antibiotics to help prevent infections, reduce inflammation, and control eye pressure.5

An eye patch or protective eye shield should also be used for a few days to prevent self-injury during sleep.

See your doctor within 24 to 48 hours after surgery for close monitoring. These visits should continue until you're at a safe stage of recovery.

Potential Side Effects 

You may experience the following side effects the first day or two after surgery:

Pupil size will restore to normal after a couple of days. This results in clear vision. 

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Decreased or lost vision
  • Severe eye pain
  • Severe reddening of the eyes
  • Sticky eye discharge
  • Clouding of the cornea
  • Bleeding eyes
  • Inflammation

Recovery Time 

Many people report clear vision within a few days after cataract surgery. But each person heals differently. It may take a week or two before you see images clearly. 

Complete healing occurs within 8 weeks of surgery. 

The success rate of cataract eye surgery is about 99%.6 Although complications have been reported, they are rare.

Cloudiness (posterior capsule opacification) might occur post-op. This happens when the tissues holding the lenses thicken several months or years after surgery.

Your doctor will recommend a painless laser treatment known as YAG laser capsulotomy to address the condition.7

7 Cataract Surgery Recovery Tips

To promote healing and avoid eye complications, you'll need to follow post-op care guidelines your doctor provides.8 

Below are seven important recovery tips for cataract surgery:

1. Avoid Driving

Most people can resume driving a day after cataract surgery. However, others experience blurry vision that can last for several days. Operating a vehicle is dangerous in these cases. 

To be safe, find a friend or family member to drive you to and from the surgery. Also, plan for reliable transportation for your follow-up appointments.

Even when you think you're fit to start driving again, consult your doctor first. They will examine you to determine whether or not you're stable enough to drive.

When you begin driving, a pair of driving glasses or sunglasses can help prevent excess light from harming your eyes.

2. Avoid Strenuous Activity

Intense activity such as heavy lifting and contact sports can increase pressure in your eye and interfere with healing.

Also, avoid certain postures, such as bending, that put your head below your waist. This can increase ocular pressure.

Furthermore, try to prevent sneezing or vomiting. These actions put excess pressure on your eyes and may affect the incision site.

Before returning to regular activities, talk to your doctor about your eyes' stability and potential risks. 

3. Avoid Water Contact

Water contains bacteria and other germs. Exposure to shower water, river water, or ocean water after surgery can cause an infection.

To be safe, wait at least 24 hours after surgery before showering. Remember to prevent the water from getting in your eyes when you do shower. 

Also, speak to your eye doctor before you resume activities like swimming and bathing in the hot tub.

4. Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes

Rubbing your eyes after cataract removal may interfere with the incision site. Your hands can also introduce bacteria to the site and cause infection.

To refrain from rubbing your eyes, use the prescribed eye drops to soothe any discomfort.

Wearing an eye shield at night can also prevent you from accidentally rubbing your eyes while you sleep.

5. Protect Your Eyes

After surgery, your eyes are prone to irritants, dust, and other kinds of trauma. Your eye doctor may give you protective sunglasses to shield your eyes during healing. 

They may also give you an eye shield to protect them from accidental injury while you sleep.

Lastly, use sunglasses to protect your sensitive eyes from excess light that can lead to discomfort.

6. Avoid Face Makeup and Lotion

While in recovery, avoid applying anything to your face. Makeup such as mascara, eyeliners, and artificial eyebrows promote bacteria growth and can lead to infection.

Doctors recommend at least a 2-week abstinence from face and eye makeup.

7. Follow Your Doctor's Advice

Taking your medications as prescribed is very important during recovery. Take the medication(s) based on the dosage and provided timelines.

It's also important to ask your doctor about any precautions to take as you resume normal activities.

If you notice any concerning side effects such as vision loss or eye pain, contact your doctor immediately.

Summary

  • Cataract surgery is the mechanical removal of a cloudy lens and replacement with an artificial one (Intraocular lens or IOL).
  • The success rate of cataract surgery is about 99%.
  • While cataract surgery is considered safe, preparation is important to ensure optimum results and to avoid complications.
  • Successful recovery is possible if you avoid rubbing your eyes, wearing makeup, indulging in strenuous activity, and neglecting your eyes.
  • Following the post-op care tips, seeking medical advice, and frequent checkups will promote a successful healing process.

8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Cataract surgery” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 19 Aug. 2021
  2. Lindstrom R. “Future of cataract surgery seems promising,” Healio, 10 Feb. 2021
  3. Iwach A. “Cataract Surgery and Glaucoma,” Glaucoma Research Foundation, 29 Oct. 2017
  4. Kent C.“Antibiotics & Cataract Surgery: New Frontiers,” Review of ophthalmology, 15 Apr. 2015
  5. Recovery-Cataract surgery,” National Health Service (NHS-UK), 09 Feb. 2021.
  6. Cataract surgery: What you should know,” University of California, 22 Mar. 2018.
  7. Karahan E. et al.,“An Overview of Nd:YAG Laser Capsulotomy,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) 2014
  8. Eghrari, A. “ Cataract Surgery Recovery: 5 Tips From an Expert,” The Johns Hopkins University.
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Vincent Ayaga is a medical researcher and experienced content writer with a bachelor's degree in Medical Microbiology. His areas of special interest include disease investigation, prevention, and control strategies. Vincent's mission is to create awareness of visual problems and evidence-based solutions shaping the world of ophthalmology. He believes that ophthalmic education offered through research has a greater impact among knowledge seekers.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/vince/
Author: Vince Ayaga  | UPDATED April 4, 2022
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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