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.2
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:
- Blurry vision due to pupil dilation
- Sensitivity to bright light (photophobia)
- Glares and halos around lights
- Gritty and scratchy eyes
- Drooping, swollen eyelids
- Mild pain for a few days
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
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.
- 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.
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