Is cataract surgery safe? Overcoming cataract surgery anxiety

Cataract surgery is the most effective treatment for cataracts. However, the idea of having surgery on your eyes can be an anxiety-inducing prospect. The good news is that cataract surgery is a relatively safe and quick procedure with positive results.

In this article, we’ll look at ways to help overcome anxiety about the procedure.

Older woman talking about her cataract surgery anxiety with a medical professional

Anxiety before cataract surgery – what you need to know

Many people feel some anxiety and dread when it comes to medical procedures, especially when they involve sensitive body parts like the eyes. Understanding what’s involved during cataract removal can help soothe your worries as you prepare for cataract surgery.

What to expect

Cataract surgery is a relatively safe procedure that involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). The procedure is typically performed on an outpatient basis, which means you’ll be able to return home on the same day of surgery. It is known for its high success rates in improving vision and overall quality of life.

At the start of the procedure, your eye is cleaned with an antiseptic solution. A drape is then placed over your eye and raised off your face with a steady flow of oxygen underneath the drape. Your breathing and pulse are monitored during the surgery to see how you’re getting on.

The following is a list highlighting the merits of cataract surgery:

  • minimal discomfort: cataract surgery is usually painless following local anaesthetic. You will feel some some pressure at times but shouldn’t experience any pain
  • high success rate: cataract surgery has a high success rate in restoring clear vision and improving quality of life
  • low risk of complications: while all surgical procedures carry some risk, cataract surgery has a low risk of complications. These range from infection and bleeding to increased eye pressure
  • short recovery time: most people recover quickly after cataract surgery and can resume their normal activities within a few days of surgery.

Should I be anxious about cataract surgery?

Despite the low complication risks and high success rate, it’s completely normal to feel nervous before cataract removal. It might be useful to chat with your surgical team about your concerns and practise relaxation techniques. Even maintaining a positive mindset can go a long way in helping you stay calm in the run-up to and during eye surgery.

How common are problems with cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery has a very high success rate. In fact, it’s a 98% complication-free operation.

The safety of the surgery has significantly improved over the years due to advancements in surgical techniques, anaesthesia, and the technology used.

What are the odds of cataract surgery going wrong?

Cataract surgery is the most successful and most frequently performed operation in the UK. Over 325,000 cases are performed annually. More than 90% of patients report a significant improvement in their vision.

The risk from cataract surgery is very low (< 1%) and complications are very rare. After the operation, you will be sent home with care instructions to protect your eye. This will include eye drops that you’ll need to use for a few weeks. Provided you follow the post-surgery advice, you should make a full recovery.

How to overcome your fear of cataract surgery

It’s normal to experience anxiety before any surgical procedure, but understanding the safety and benefits of cataract surgery can help alleviate these concerns. Here are some tips to overcome anxiety:

Do your research

As with lots of things in life, knowledge is empowering. Take the time to learn about the cataract surgery procedure, what to expect during and after surgery, and the risks and benefits it carries.

Find a surgeon you can trust

Look for a surgeon with a good track record of successfully removing cataracts. Have a thorough discussion with your eye surgeon about any concerns or questions you may have regarding the surgery and its safety.

Practise mindfulness

Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation can help reduce anxiety while promoting a sense of calm.

Read positive reviews

Reach out to others who have undergone cataract surgery. Their experiences and positive outcomes can provide reassurance and help alleviate anxiety. Our patient reviews will give you more information.

Focus on the benefits

Keep in mind the positive impact cataract surgery will have on your vision and overall well-being. Visual improvement can significantly enhance your daily life.

Follow pre-operative advice

Adhering to preoperative guidelines provided by your healthcare team will ensure that you are adequately prepared for the surgery. This will allow for a smoother experience. For example, these could be nil-by-mouth instructions before the procedure or stopping/starting certain medications.

Connect with loved ones

Share your concerns with a trusted friend or family member. Having a support system can provide emotional comfort and support during this time.

Why choose Practice Plus Group?

Cataract surgery is a safe and effective procedure that can greatly improve your vision and quality of life. By educating yourself about the procedure and employing relaxation techniques to manage anxiety, you can approach cataract surgery with confidence. If you have any concerns or questions, always consult with your healthcare professional. We’re just a phone call away!

Still terrified of cataract surgery? Read our dedicated FAQs

Understanding what happens during the procedure can help bring peace of mind. That’s why we’ve answered some common practical questions about cataract surgery. Take a look at the FAQs below to make sure you know exactly what to expect.

No, the procedure should not be painful. If you do feel discomfort during the surgery ask for more anaesthetic.

In the majority of cases, local anaesthetic is used so you are awake and aware during the procedure.

Cataract surgery is done under local anaesthetic (through the use of eye drops). This means you’re awake during the operation. The local anaesthetic may involve eye drops and/or an injection. Some patients with significant anxiety or other health conditions can ask to be referred to a provider who offers surgery under general anaesthetic.

Most patients are fine to have surgery without any form of sedation. If you are very anxious, you can ask your GP to prescribe some medication to take on the day when you arrive for surgery. Some providers offer cataract surgery using intravitreous sedation, which is administered with a small injection into a vein.

The procedure is typically performed in a reclined position to ensure that your eye remains steady and accessible to the eye doctor or surgeon. You will usually lie flat on your back or in a slightly inclined position, with your head properly supported to maintain comfort throughout the surgery.

By using an eyelid speculum. This is a small, lightweight instrument that gently holds the eyelids open. Your surgeon will carefully place the speculum between the eyelids, holding them in position to provide a clear view of the eye. This tool is designed to be minimally invasive and is adjusted to fit comfortably on your eye. It should prevent any discomfort or pressure.

During cataract surgery, it’s natural to have the reflex to blink. However, you won’t be able to do so. This is because the surgical team will use an eyelid speculum to keep your eyelids gently held open.

If you feel the urge to sneeze or cough, let the surgical team know so they can pause the procedure.

Feeling claustrophobic during cataract surgery is a possibility for some, especially if you have a fear of confined spaces. However, it’s important to remember that the environment is carefully designed to prioritise your comfort and safety. If you feel uncomfortable at any point, the surgical team is there to help.

You may want to request calming music or a podcast to listen to during the procedure, if allowed by the surgical team. Alternatively, repeating positive affirmations to yourself, breathing slowly and deeply, or visualising a calming situation can all help keep you calm.

Cataract surgery usually takes about 15 minutes and most people go home about one-to-two hours later.

Experiencing a panic attack during surgery can be distressing, but it’s important to know that the surgical team is well-prepared to handle such situations. If you start to experience signs of a panic attack, the surgical team will quickly become aware of the situation by monitoring your vital signs and observing any visible signs of distress.

The team will typically pause the procedure to ensure your safety. Depending on the severity of the attack and your overall well-being, the surgical team will decide whether to continue the surgery once you’re calmer or if it’s better to postpone it to another time.

Barmak Zadeh


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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