Cataract Surgery Recovery
Your cataract surgery recovery should be short and uneventful, as long as your health is good and you don't have other major eye problems. Statistics also show that your chances of a good outcome and sharper vision after surgery are excellent.
Uncomplicated cataract surgery often takes no longer than about 10 minutes to perform. But immediately after the surgery, you will need to rest in a recovery area until you are less groggy from sedation or anesthesia. Typically this takes about 30 minutes to an hour.
You must have someone available to drive you home after the procedure. You'll be given a pair of sunglasses to wear on the trip home to protect your eye from bright light and glare.
If you are sleepy or tired when you get home, you might want to rest in bed for a few hours. Depending on your cataract surgeon's advice, you may be able to remove the protective shield placed over your eye within several hours after the procedure.
Just remember that you will need to tape the shield back over your eye at night or during naps, for protection while you recover from cataract surgery, at least for several days.
What Is the Typical Cataract Surgery Recovery Time?
Don't be alarmed if your vision seems cloudy, blurry or distorted after you first remove the eye shield. It can take some time for your visual system to adjust to the removal of the cataract and adapt to the intraocular lens used to replace your eye's natural lens.
During this adaptation period, some patients even report seeing "wavy" vision or distortions. This phenomenon, if present, should last only an hour or so.
You may also develop red and bloodshot eyes because of temporary damage to blood vessels on the surface of the "white" of your eye (sclera) during cataract surgery. As your eye heals, the redness should dissipate very quickly within several days.
If you received an injection of anesthesia through the skin into the lower portion of your eye, you may notice some bruising similar to a black eye. This, too, should fade within a few days.
Many patients report clear vision within several hours after cataract surgery. But each person heals differently, and you may need as long as a week or two before you see images in their sharpest focus.
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Typically you will have a follow-up appointment with your cataract surgeon the day after the procedure, to make sure there are no complications. If you don't notice any improvement at all in blurry vision during the next several days or you feel any pain or other unusual discomfort, you should report this to your surgeon.
Sometimes people report some dry eye or "scratchiness" after cataract surgery. But these sensations should subside as your eye heals, unless you already had problems with dry eyes prior to having the procedure.
Your cataract surgery recovery should be complete in about a month, when your eye is completely healed.
How Can You Achieve the Best Cataract Surgery Recovery?
You might be surprised at how good you feel and how easily you will be able to resume normal activities even the day after cataract surgery.
However, you should observe a few precautions during the first week or so, to make sure you avoid developing an infection or sustaining an injury to your eye while it heals.
Your eye doctor typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection and anti-inflammatory eye drops to help reduce any internal inflammation. You'll need to apply the eye drops several times daily for about the first week during your cataract surgery recovery.
Depending on the amount of postoperative inflammation you have, you may need the drops for a few weeks to a month. Make sure you use these eye drops exactly as prescribed.
Oral pain relievers such as acetaminophen may be prescribed, if needed. Typically, however, you should feel only slight discomfort after cataract surgery.
To help make sure your cataract surgery recovery is uneventful, also observe these tips:
- Don't drive on the first day.
- Don't do any heavy lifting or strenuous activity for a few weeks.
- Immediately after the procedure, avoid bending over, to prevent putting extra pressure on your eye.
- If at all possible, don't sneeze or vomit right after surgery.
- Be careful walking around after surgery, and don't bump into doors or other objects.
- To reduce risk of infection, avoid swimming or using a hot tub during the first week.
- Don't expose your eye to irritants such as grime, dust and wind during the first few weeks after surgery.
- Don't rub your eye, which is a good idea even when you aren't recovering from surgery.
A protective patch will be placed over your eye following cataract surgery. (Image: National Eye Institute)
Generally speaking, you should be able to perform these activities within a few hours of your surgery:
- Computer work
- Light TV watching
- Showering or bathing
For the best recovery possible, follow your doctor's detailed instructions about how to protect your eye following a procedure. Usually these instructions, many of which are covered here, will be given to you as a handout that you can take home with you.
If you need cataract surgery in both eyes, your surgeon usually will wait at least a few days to two weeks for your first eye to recover before performing a procedure on the second eye.
Cataract Surgery Recovery and Typical Outcomes
To better understand how well your recovery will progress, you first should know that cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgical procedures in the United States.
Statistics generally used to describe cataract surgery outcomes are based on a comprehensive analysis of 90 studies that were conducted between 1979 and 1991.* These results show that the vast majority of people have good outcomes.
Also, technologies and intraocular lenses used for cataract surgery have improved significantly in the last decade or so.
Past studies show that:
- Almost 96 percent of eyes that had no other problems such as other eye diseases prior to a cataract procedure achieved at least 20/40 uncorrected distance visual acuity, which legally is good enough to drive without eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- In all eyes, including those with pre-existing eye conditions other than cataracts, almost 90 percent of all patients had good outcomes.
- Fewer than 2 percent of eyes had sight-threatening cataract surgery complications.
People who experience serious complications often have other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
One very common complication of cataract surgery that usually can be treated easily is posterior capsular opacification, which can cause your vision to become cloudy weeks or months after cataract removal. A simple laser procedure called a posterior capsulotomy usually can clear up the cloudiness and restore sharp vision.
Cataract. Goldman: Cecil Medicine, 23rd ed. 2007.
[Page updated April 2013]