Cataract surgery recovery: 8 tips to minimize recovery time
Your cataract surgery recovery should be short and uneventful, as long as you follow the post-op instructions you receive from your surgeon and attend all recommended follow-up visits with your eye doctor.
Uncomplicated cataract surgery usually takes no longer than about 10 minutes to perform. Immediately after the surgery, you will 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 the advice you receive from your cataract surgeon, 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 a typical cataract surgery recovery time?
Don't be alarmed if your vision seems cloudy, blurry or distorted when 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 "white" of your eye (sclera) during cataract surgery. As your eye heals, the redness should dissipate 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.
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 in blurry vision or you feel eye pain or significant discomfort in the days following this visit, you should report this to your surgeon.
Sometimes people report some dry eye or "scratchiness" after cataract surgery. These sensations should subside as your eye heals, unless you already had problems with dry eyes prior to having the procedure.
Your full cataract surgery recovery should occur within about a month, when your eye is completely healed.
How to get the best cataract surgery recovery?
You might be surprised at how good you feel and how easy it is 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 any complications during your cataract surgery recovery.
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 following surgery.
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.
For a safe and speedy cataract surgery recovery, follow these tips:
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 of your cataract surgery recovery.
Don't expose your eye to irritants such as dust, dirt, wind and pollen during the first few weeks after surgery.
Don't rub your eye after surgery.
Generally speaking, you should be able to perform these activities within a few hours of your surgery:
Light TV watching
Showering or bathing
For the best cataract surgery recovery possible, follow your doctor's detailed instructions about how to protect your eye following your procedure. Usually these instructions will be given to you as a handout that you can take home with you on surgery day.
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
Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgical procedures in the United States. More than 3 million cataract surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, and most people have excellent outcomes with no cataract surgery complications.
Past studies show:
Almost 96% 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% of all patients had good outcomes.
Fewer than 2% of eyes that undergo cataract surgery have sight-threatening complications after the procedure.
People who experience serious complications often have other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
A relatively common complication of cataract surgery that usually can be treated easily is posterior capsular opacification (PCO), which can cause your vision to become cloudy months or years after cataract removal. A simple laser procedure called a posterior capsulotomy usually can clear up the cloudiness and restore sharp vision.
READ NEXT: Refractive cataract surgery
Page published in February 2019
Page updated in January 2022