Cataract surgery is widely accepted as one of the safest and most commonly performed surgical procedures in the world that effectively reduces the symptoms associated with cataracts. In fact, over 3 million procedures are performed each year in the United States alone. Cataract surgery recovery is often very brief, with most patients returning to normal activities within days of surgery. Complications are rare, and significant complications occur in less than one percent of cases. During your recovery, it is important to follow your ophthalmologist's instructions closely, and contact your doctor if you experience any changes to your vision.
The cataract surgery procedure is quick, and can usually be accomplished in approximately 10 minutes. Immediately afterwards, you will rest in a recovery area while you are monitored by your doctor. The time spent in the recovery area will vary depending on whether sedation or a local anesthetic was used, but typically ranges from 30 minutes to an hour.
Following your cataract surgery, you will need to be driven home because your vision will be impaired. Most patients only experience minimal discomfort after cataract surgery, and they may also encounter some mild redness or a sensation of itchiness in the affected eye. It is recommended that you rest for the remainder of the day to promote healing.
During your cataract surgery recovery, it important to:
- Use prescribed eye drops. Your ophthalmologist will order a series of eye drops designed to control any post-operative inflammation inside the eye, and to control intraocular pressure.
- Use a protective shield. During the first week following surgery, it is especially important to avoid bumping or scratching your eye at night, which is why your ophthalmologist will provide you with a protective shield to wear over your eye as you sleep.
- Wear sunglasses. Because your eyes may be especially sensitive to light and glare during the days immediately following your procedure, it is important to protect them from sunlight. If possible, choose a pair with high levels of UVA/UVB protection.
- Keep the eye area clean. To avoid exposing your healing eye to bacteria, your ophthalmologist will likely recommend avoiding eye makeup for the week following your cataract surgery.
- Avoid heavy lifting. As your eye heals, avoid strenuous physical activity, including lifting heavy objects, which can increase your intraocular pressure.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eye area
- Avoid rubbing or putting pressure on your eye
The day after cataract surgery, your surgeon will likely perform a post-operative exam to ensure that the eye is healing properly. Additional appointments will also be made for the following week, and the following month.
Cataract surgery recovery time is considered to be approximately six weeks. However, most patients should find that any pain or discomfort will subside within a day or two of their surgery. Immediately following cataract surgery, patients may experience some pain and irritation of the eye. Many patients also experience increased light sensitivity and a small amount of fluid discharge after cataract surgery. Special pills and eye drops may be prescribed to promote healing and regulate the pressure inside the eye. Pain relievers may also be taken during the first few days if necessary. Follow-up exams allow the physician to monitor patient progress. Sunglasses or eye shields can help protect the eye while it is healing.
Despite the marked improvement that cataract surgery offers, most patients will continue to wear contacts or glasses after their cataract treatment. After cataract surgery, there will be a period of recovery time while the eyes adjust to seeing without the cataract. If only one eye is treated, the eyes must learn to work together again. Many everyday activities can be resumed soon after cataract surgery, although patients may experience blurry vision for a time. Driving may be impractical and unsafe at first; the physician will advise the patient on the appropriate time to begin driving again after cataract treatment. Also, patients who receive intraocular lenses (IOLs) may notice some color distortion at first. This should resolve itself within a few months, as the eyes adjust to the new, clear lenses of the IOLs.
Cataract surgery is generally considered to be safe and effective. As with any surgical procedure, there are certain risks associated with the procedure. The following cataract surgery complications may occur following treatment:
- Infection: As the eye is healing, it is particularly vulnerable to infection-causing bacteria. Your ophthalmologist may caution you to avoid touching your eye area following surgery, and to wash hands thoroughly before inserting prescribed eye drops.
- Inflammation: Following eye surgery, a slight amount of inflammation inside the eye is to be expected. Your ophthalmologist will likely prescribe a week-long regimen of eye drops to control inflammation.
- Retinal detachment: Following cataract surgery, it is important that you pay attention to any flashes of light or "floaters" in your field of vision. These symptoms should be treated as a medical emergency.
- Secondary cataracts: When the cataract-clouded lens of the eye is removed, the posterior capsule is left in place. Occasionally, this capsule becomes clouded and presents a condition known as a "posterior capsule opacity." Fortunately, secondary cataracts are easily treated with a quick laser procedure known as a YAG capsulotomy.
- High pressure in the eye
- Lens displacement
- Swelling of the cornea
- Secondary cataracts (posterior capsule opacity)
Most of these cataract surgery complications are very rare. Discussing treatment with a qualified ophthalmologist ahead of time and following the doctor's recommendations may reduce the risk of cataract surgery complications. Most patients report favorable cataract surgery results, including improved vision.
If cataract surgery complications occur, it is important to contact a medical professional immediately. When left untreated, inflammation, infection and retinal detachment could lead to permanent vision loss. If you experience any of the following symptoms, they may indicate cataract surgery complications. It is important to contact a medical professional right away to prevent permanent vision loss.
- Unusually blurry vision, or sudden vision loss
- Eye pain
- Redness of the eye
- Bright flashes or "floaters"
Find a Cataract Surgeon in Your Area
If you have been diagnosed with cataracts and would like to learn more about your options, use our directory to contact a surgeon in your area. He or she will be able to answer any questions you may have about cataract surgery results, recovery, and possible cataract surgery complications.