Guide

Recovering from cataract surgery – a patient guide

If you need cataract surgery, you probably have a whole host of questions. Patients typically ask about the duration of the procedure (around 30 minutes) and whether it’s considered a major surgery (yes but with a high success rate). For the purpose of this article, we’re going to explore what recovering from cataract surgery looks like.

We’ll walk you through the recovery journey, including what to expect following the procedure.

Woman smiling on holiday wearing sunglasses after recovering from cataract surgery

The right preparation for a smooth recovery

Did you know that thorough preparation for your cataract operation can give you a better chance of making a full and speedy recovery?

Before your cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will provide you with specific instructions. These may include:

  • Medication review: Inform your surgeon about any medications you are currently taking. These include over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Certain medications, such as blood thinners, may need to be adjusted or temporarily discontinued before surgery
  • Transportation: Since you won’t be able to drive immediately after the surgery, make sure you have a trusted friend or family member available to drive you home
  • Fasting: You will likely be instructed not to eat or drink anything for a specific period before the surgery. It is crucial to follow these instructions to avoid complications during the procedure.

What is recovery from cataract surgery like?

You’ll likely have heard about the lengthy recovery journeys for people who have had knee or hip surgery. The reality of recovering from cataract surgery is much less taxing, however, the eye still needs time to recover like any part of the body. Here’s what to expect in the days and weeks after surgery.

Immediate post-operative care

After the surgery, you’ll spend a short time in the recovery area where medical staff will monitor you. At this point, it’s normal to experience some mild discomfort, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light.

After cataract surgery, your vision may be blurry or hazy. This should improve within 48 hours. It’s important to remember that everyone’s healing process is unique and your vision may take a little longer to stabilise.

You may have a follow-up appointment with your eye surgeon in the days after surgery. They will assess your healing progress and may adjust your eye drop regimen if necessary.

Weeks after surgery

In the first few weeks, you will start to notice further improvements in your vision. You may also experience a reduction in post-operative symptoms.

Your vision will continue to improve gradually as your eye heals. However, it’s important to remember that individual healing rates vary, and it may take several weeks for your vision to stabilise and for the eye to feel comfortable.

While you should be able to resume most of your daily activities, your surgeon will advise you to avoid activities that put excessive strain on your eyes. This is usually for around 3-4 weeks following surgery. These include heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. It’s also important to protect your eyes from excessive sunlight by wearing sunglasses. You will also need to avoid dirty and dusty environments for about a month after your procedure.

You will have follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor your progress. They will evaluate your vision, check for any complications and address any concerns you may have.

Even if your vision improves a lot, you need to continue using the prescribed eye drops as directed by your surgeon. These drops help prevent infection and reduce inflammation during the crucial healing period.

Months after surgery

In the months following cataract surgery, you should experience significant improvements in your vision.

Your vision should have stabilised and you will ideally have adapted well to the intraocular lens (IOL) implanted during the surgery.

While many people achieve excellent vision without the need for glasses or contact lenses after cataract surgery, others may still require them for specific tasks. Reading or watching TV commonly still requires the use of glasses for some patients. Your surgeon will advise you on whether you need additional vision correction.

Long term care

By this stage, you should be able to enjoy your day-to-day activities with improved visual clarity and reduced dependence on glasses or contact lenses.

Even though your vision has improved, it’s important to maintain regular eye care. Schedule routine eye examinations to monitor your eye health and address any concerns that may arise.

Cooking and cleaning after cataract surgery

Activities such as cooking and cleaning, which involve potential risks to your eyes, should be approached with caution during the healing period.

Before your surgery, consider preparing meals in advance or stocking up on easy-to-prepare foods. If possible, ask a family member, friend or caregiver to assist you with cooking tasks, especially during the first few days after surgery.

While cleaning your home, it is important to avoid harsh cleaning chemicals that can irritate your eyes. Consider wearing protective eyewear, such as safety glasses or goggles.

Cataract surgery recovery and driving

In most cases, patients can resume driving within a few days of cataract surgery. This timeline may vary depending on how quickly you heal and the type of surgery you had. It is important to follow the recommended recovery period provided by your eye surgeon before getting behind the wheel. You should ensure you can see number plates on other cars at the legal required distance of 20.5 metres.

Time off work after cataract surgery

Before making any decisions about your return to work, seek advice from your eye surgeon. They will assess your individual case and provide personalised recommendations based on your specific circumstances.

The amount of time you need to take off work may depend on the nature of your job and the tasks involved. If your work involves physically demanding activities, prolonged periods of screen time or exposure to dust, chemicals or bright lights, you may need a longer recovery period. Discuss your job requirements with your eye surgeon to determine the appropriate duration of time off work.

How long does it take to recover from cataract surgery?

While some patients experience vision improvement within hours of their eye surgery, it can take up to six weeks to fully recover.

Remember that recovery time after cataract surgery varies from person to person. While some may experience significant improvements in vision within a few days, others may take several weeks to fully recover. It’s important to remember that everyone’s healing process is unique and can be influenced by the following factors:

  • age
  • overall health
  • severity of the cataract
  • any pre-existing eye conditions
  • the type of surgery performed.

While the majority of the visual improvements occur within the first few weeks, the complete healing process can take several months. During this time, subtle refinements in your vision may continue to occur. It’s important to attend all follow-up appointments with your surgeon to monitor your progress and ensure that your eyes are healing properly.

Find out more about cataract surgery timings in our dedicated blog.

How to recover faster after cataract surgery – tips, do’s, and don’ts

The following tips and tricks may provide a better chance of a smooth and speedy recovery:

DO

  • take it easy for the first three weeks following surgery. Avoid strenuous exercise or activities such as lifting heavy objects and bending over (this includes massage, pilates, and prayer)
  • follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions and guidelines
  • wear an eye shield or protective patch (as advised by your surgeon) while sleeping to prevent accidental injury to the operated eye
  • use prescribed eye drops (as directed by your surgeon) to prevent infection and promote healing
  • be careful when washing your hair and face to avoid contact with irritants like shampoo or soap
  • wear protective eyewear (such as sunglasses) to shield your eyes from bright sunlight or dusty environments
  • keep your eyes clean by following proper hygiene practices. These include washing your hands before applying eye drops
  • maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious foods, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest and sleep
  • practise good eye care habits. This includes avoiding excessive screen time and taking regular breaks when using electronic devices
  • attend all scheduled follow-up appointments with your surgeon for evaluation and guidance
  • contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe pain, increased redness, sudden vision loss or any other concerning symptoms.

DON’T

  • touch or rub your eyes to prevent irritation and infection
  • swim until your surgeon gives clearance.

When to seek medical attention

Cataract surgery is generally safe and has a high success rate. However, it is important to be aware of the complications, side effects and potential cataract surgery risks. Symptoms to look out for are:

  • severe or worsening eye pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medication
  • sudden vision changes, a significant decline in visual acuity, or a sudden increase in blurry or distorted vision
  • increased redness, swelling, or any discharge from the eye
  • flashes of light or a sudden increase in floaters (tiny specks or spots drifting across your field of vision)
  • persistent or worsening blurred vision
  • sudden and significant increased sensitivity to light.

It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive. If you have any concerns or notice any other unusual symptoms following cataract surgery, it is always best to contact your eye surgeon.

Remember, everyone’s recovery timeline may vary, so patience is key. With time and proper care, cataract surgery can significantly improve your vision and quality of life.

Cataract operation recovery FAQs

Not yet found what you’re looking for? Our dedicated cataract surgery recovery FAQs might be able to help!

Sleeping on your back is generally considered the best position after cataract surgery. This is because it allows for proper support and alignment of the head, neck and body.

Avoid sleeping on your side or stomach as it can put pressure on the operated eye. This can cause discomfort and disrupt the healing process.

Strenuous activities involve physical exertion, increased heart rate, and movement that puts strain on the eyes.

For example: lifting heavy objects, vigorous exercise like running, jumping and weightlifting, or movements that involve excessive bending or straining.

Barmak Zadeh

Acknowledgements

This article was completed with the help of Mr Barmak Zadeh, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Practice Plus Group Ophthalmology, Rochdale. His vast experience means he’s routinely involved in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal and macular diseases, cataracts, corneal diseases, keratoconus, and glaucoma. He has over 20 years’ experience in Ophthalmology, during which he has published a number of peer reviewed scientific publications in the medical literature. Over the last few years Practice Plus Group has grown its Marketing Team to include art workers, campaign and social media managers, content editors, and digital analysts. Together, they provide a responsive and comprehensive service, ensuring all content is on-brand and in-line with relevant medical guidelines.
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