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Blurry vision after surgery or anesthesia

woman with blurry vision holding up something to read after having eye surgery

Can surgery cause blurry vision?

Blurred vision is common after certain eye surgeries, but it can also happen after a procedure that doesn't involve your eyes. It's usually a temporary side effect that goes away over time. Less commonly, blurred vision can also be a symptom of a complication.

Blurry vision after eye surgery

After a surgery on your eye, your vision may look a little blurred while your eye heals.

Your risk of blurry vision after surgery depends on your condition and medical history, as well as the type of procedure you had.

Some of these surgeries are:

Cataract surgery

Cataract surgery is used to remove the cloudy lens (cataract) inside your eye and replace it with a new, clear artificial lens. It's one of the most common procedures in the world.

Blurry vision is a normal side effect of cataract surgery and is typically caused by swelling. It usually improves within a few days, but it can last 4 to 6 weeks for some people.

Tell your eye doctor if your eyesight is still blurry after a week unless they direct you otherwise.

Posterior capsular opacification (PCO) is a common aftereffect of this surgery. A PCO is often called a secondary cataract, but it isn’t a real cataract. It’s caused by a film that can grow on the back side of the capsule that holds the lens. It can cause foggy or blurred vision after surgery — sometimes months or years later. It is usually treated with a quick laser procedure.

READ MORE: What is a cataract?

Laser vision correction surgery

These surgeries use lasers to treat common eyesight problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.

Some blurry vision right after LASIK or PRK is expected. It can happen after similar procedures like SMILE and LASEK, too.

Any fuzzy vision should improve in the days or weeks after surgery, depending on your procedure.

Blurred vision can also be part of a complication of LASIK, PRK or other laser procedure.

In rare cases, blurriness and other vision problems can last months or years. Some symptoms are treatable with follow-up surgery.

Complications can happen for many different reasons. Talk to your eye doctor if your side effects are severe or last longer than expected.

Eyelid surgery

An upper eyelid surgery (or "eyelid lift") can be used for medical or cosmetic reasons. It's also known by its medical name, blepharoplasty.

Your eyesight should improve within two or three days, but it can take up to a few weeks for some patients.

Glaucoma surgery

Surgeons can use many types of glaucoma surgery to lower the pressure inside your eye. Blurry vision is a common side effect.

These procedures include:

  • Trabeculectomy – Your vision may be blurry for up to six weeks after the procedure.

  • Laser – A little blurriness is common. Most patients can go back to their normal activities the next day.

  • Minimally invasive This includes implanted devices like iStent, GATT and XEN stent. Some blurry vision may be expected in the days or weeks after surgery.

  • Implant – Blurred vision can last for a few days after a tube shunt is implanted. It may last several weeks for some patients.

Eye muscle surgery

Eye muscle surgery is one treatment option for children and adults with eye alignment problems (strabismus).

While it can take up to three months for the muscles to fully heal, any blurry vision should get better within a matter of days.

Retinal detachment surgery

Blurry vision is common after retinal detachment surgery. It generally lasts between two and six weeks. Some people also notice wavy or distorted vision.

Surgeons can use one of three procedures for a detached retina:

  1. Pneumatic retinopexy (an air or gas bubble is injected into the eye)

  2. Scleral buckle (a band is placed around the white part of the eye)

  3. Vitrectomy (the vitreous gel that fills the eye is removed then replaced with saline)

A vitrectomy is used for other eye problems, too. It's usually performed in a hospital operating room.

After a vitrectomy or pneumatic retinopexy, you might see blurred vision in part of your view, while the other part looks clear. The blurry portion is the air bubble inside your eye.

This side effect should go away once the bubble dissolves.

LEARN MORE about retinal detachment surgery

Corneal transplant

Blurry vision is a normal part of the healing process after a corneal transplant. How long it lasts depends on which procedure you had, how well your body accepts the donor cornea and other factors.

Many people can go back to work within a few weeks, but it could take longer to see the full effects of surgery. Some transplants cause at least some blurry vision for around three months, while others take up to a year to achieve full vision.

Blurry vision after anesthesia

Doctors use general anesthesia to make sure you're totally asleep during a surgery. It's different from regional anesthesia and local anesthesia, which only numb part of your body while you're awake.

General anesthesia can cause blurry vision and other eye-related side effects or complications. Severe eye problems are rare.

How long does it last?

In one study, about 1 in 25 patients had blurred vision for three days or more after they woke up from anesthesia. It usually went away in the coming weeks.

However, 1 in 100 patients said their fuzzy vision didn't go away. They needed to get prescription glasses or contacts to see clearly.

Why does this happen?

Researchers think some anesthesia patients already have blurred vision before surgery but don't realize it until after.

For example, someone with mild farsightedness or presbyopia may not notice their blurry close-up vision until their recovery, when they spend a lot more time reading than they normally would. In this case, surgery made the blurriness more noticeable, but it didn't cause it.

An eye scratch (corneal abrasion) is the most common physical cause of blurred vision after anesthesia. It tends to happen when someone's eyes dry out while they're asleep during surgery. This may occur if their eyelids don’t stay completely closed. 

Scratches that cause pain are rare after general anesthesia. One study showed that they affect about 1 in 2,800 people. People who already have conditions like thyroid eye disease could be at higher risk.

Blurred vision after surgery that doesn't involve your eyes

Blurry vision after surgery is possible, even when the procedure isn't related to your eyes. This includes surgeries where general anesthesia is used.

Certain procedures are more likely to cause problems that blur your vision. A few of them are:

  • Back or neck surgery – Dry eye irritation is more common when the surgeon positions the patient face-down, on their side or on their back with their head tilted lower than their feet. Some spine procedures also have a higher risk of eye stroke, which could cause sudden blurry vision after surgery.

  • Thyroidectomy – Thyroid removal can increase the risk for eye conditions like Graves' ophthalmopathy and Horner's syndrome. Both can cause blurred vision and other symptoms.

  • Hysterectomy or prostatectomy – Some laparoscopic (uses a thin camera probe) and robotic-assisted procedures can increase the pressure inside your eye. This may raise the risk for an emergency form of glaucoma in some people, but more research is needed.

While permanent vision loss is possible, it's very rare for most patients.

Your risk for eye problems will vary depending on the type of procedure, how long you'll be asleep and any current medical conditions.

READ MORE: Which medications can cause vision problems?

When to follow up with your eye doctor

Blurry vision after surgery happens for many different reasons. More often than not, it's a normal part of the healing process — especially after an eye surgery. But blurred vision can also be part of a more complicated problem that should be monitored and treated.

Talk to your eye doctor or surgeon any time you notice unexpected or severe eye symptoms after surgery.

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Cataract surgery. Cleveland Clinic. April 2023.

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Posterior capsule opacification. EyeWiki. American Academy of Ophthalmology. August 2023.

LASIK eye surgery. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. February 2022.

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What is small incision lenticule extraction? EyeSmart. American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2023.

Laser surgery recovery. EyeSmart. American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2023.

Facts about LASIK complications. EyeSmart. American Academy of Ophthalmology. February 2023.

Laser in situ keratomileusis (LASIK). StatPearls [Internet]. July 2023.

LASIK complications. EyeWiki. American Academy of Ophthalmology. January 2023.

Eyelid lift. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. March 2023.

Variable vision after glaucoma surgery. Review of Ophthalmology. July 2021.

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Laser surgery. Glaucoma Research Foundation. March 2022.

Microinvasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS). EyeWiki. American Academy of Ophthalmology. May 2023.

Strabismus surgery. Cleveland Clinic. November 2022.

Squints and squint surgery. Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. August 2022.

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Surgery for retinal detachment. National Eye Institute. December 2020.

Vitrectomy. National Eye Institute. October 2022.

Vitrectomy surgery. Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. September 2021.

Ocular causes of visual distortions. Australian Journal of General Practice. August 2019.

Cornea transplant. Cleveland Clinic. March 2023.

Cornea transplant - afterwards. National Health Service. July 2021.

Anesthesia. MedlinePlus [Internet]. October 2023.

Perioperative care of the patient with eye pathologies undergoing nonocular surgery. Anesthesiology. November 2022.

Retinal artery occlusion. A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. February 2022.

Post-operative Horner's syndrome following total thyroidectomy: A case report. Cureus. August 2022.

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