What to Expect After Cataract Surgery

By Duncan Gumaer


Roughly half of Americans over the age of 75 will have their vision clouded by cataracts. Cataract surgery can be a good choice when cataracts impair your ability to lead an ordinary life, but fully recovering from eye surgery isn’t something that happens overnight. Treatment can temporarily restrict your ability to do a variety of simple tasks, which is why it’s important to know what to expect after cataract surgery.

Moments After Surgery

Performing cataract surgery takes about 10 minutes. After waking from sedation, you can expect to feel sensitivity and scratchiness. Those feelings will subside as the eye heals. A doctor will place a protective shield over the eye. You’ll be provided sunglasses for the trip home, and within an hour of treatment you’ll probably be on your way. But driving after cataract surgery is not possible, so be sure to arrange safe transportation.

With the permission of your doctor, the protective eye shield can typically be removed within a few hours. Initially, vision can be blurry, distorted, or cloudy. The eye needs to adjust to having a cataract removed, and these symptoms should gradually disappear. Bloodshot eyes are normal and typically heal within a few days. It’s also normal to have bruising, which resembles a black eye, resulting from anesthesia injected through the eye. You can expect it to heal as quickly as any bruise.

Only hours after surgery, it’s fine to watch television, use a computer, and shower. Colors may seem brighter because cataracts have a brown or yellow tinge, which can mute colors. In the days to come, you’ll need to continue to place the protective eye shield over your eye to sleep and nap. And during this initial adjustment period, it’s important to take extra caution when walking about.

Post-Surgery Restrictions

After cataract surgery, the eye remains vulnerable while healing. Try to avoid dust, wind, and similar sources of potential eye irritation. Don’t wear make-up, don’t swim, don’t use a hot tub, and don’t rub your eye. Keep up these precautions for at least one week, and you can greatly lower risk of infection.

Exercise after cataract surgery should be avoided. You want no strenuous activity for several weeks. Immediately after surgery, try to avoid bending over. It can create extra pressure on the eye. Sneezing and vomiting do the same and should be avoided if possible. Driving after cataract surgery is usually possible within a few weeks, depending entirely on your rate of healing.

Most people will need glasses after cataract surgery. Your doctor will inform you when you’ve healed enough for prescription glasses, typically 4 to 12 weeks. It can take several weeks to recover the full focus of your eye, and everyone recovers at a different rate.

Unexpected Symptoms and Complications

You can expect minor discomfort after cataract surgery, but it’s important to know what symptoms aren’t normal. Contact you doctor if you see light flashes, multiple floaters in the eye, or have vision loss. You should also contact your doctor about nausea, vomiting, excessive coughing, increased eye redness, and other signs of infection. These symptoms aren’t normal and may indicate a serious complication.

More than 3 million cataract surgeries are performed annually in the US and with overwhelming rates of success. It usually only takes a few hours before patients can return to their lives with clearer vision and only a few weeks to completely heal. Provided you know what to expect after cataract surgery, all it takes are a few simple precautions to help ensure healthy, natural healing.