What can I expect after cataract surgery?

Laura C. Fine, MD
After a cataract surgery, the surgeon may cover the eye with a bandage or shield, which may be removed later that day or the following day. Typically you will be discharged after you rest for a while in the recovery area, but you will need someone to drive you home. Reading and watching television are permitted almost immediately. Although it's a good idea to take it easy, most people can resume normal activities within a few days. Check with your doctor, however, before doing anything strenuous.

Vision usually improves quickly (within a few days) following cataract surgery. For some, vision may be excellent within hours. For others, it may take several days or even a few weeks to return to normal. This longer interval does not necessarily indicate any complication or failure of the surgery. During the healing process, you may be surprised by changes in color: because the clouded lens, which commonly filters out some colors, has been removed, colors may appear more luminous or seem to have a bluish glow. Spending time in bright sunlight may give objects a reddish afterimage when you come indoors.

Sticky eyelids, itching, sensitivity to light, and mild tearing are perfectly normal after surgery, but severe pain and sudden changes in vision are unusual and warrant an immediate call to your doctor. Patients who suffer minor discomfort can take a non-aspirin pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) every four to six hours. Any discomfort should subside on its own within a day or two.

The ophthalmologist will schedule several postoperative visits: the day after surgery, after about a week, at three to four weeks, and then usually six to eight weeks later. The doctor will examine your eye, test your visual acuity, and measure eye pressure. Corrections for eyeglasses will probably not be prescribed until three to six weeks following surgery.
In the vast majority of cases, the postoperative course is very comfortable so discomfort should be minimal. Most patients don't require pain medications and at most have a slight foreign-body feeling from the incision, which usually clears in a few hours.  The vision the next day can be excellent or at times cloudy, depending on the amount of swelling (edema) in the cornea.  This swelling usually clears in a few days, and most patients see quite well in a few days. Patients with mild cataracts generally have very little swelling. Very dense cataracts require more energy to remove, and this can produce more swelling in the cornea.

More than 1.8 million people have cataract surgery each year in the United States, and more than 95 percent of those surgeries are performed with no complications.

During cataract surgery, which is usually performed under local or topical anesthesia as an outpatient procedure, the cloudy lens is removed from the eye. In most cases, the focusing power of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens implant.

Your ophthalmologist performs this delicate surgery using a microscope, miniature instruments and other modern technology.

After surgery, you will have to take eyedrops as your ophthalmologist directs. Your surgeon will check your eye several times to make sure it is healing properly.

Cataract surgery is a highly successful procedure. Improved vision is the result in more than 95 percent of cases, unless there is a problem with the cornea, retina, optic nerve or other structures. It is important to understand that complications can occur during or after the surgery, some severe enough to limit vision. If you experience even the slightest problem after cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will want to hear from you immediately.

In many people who have cataract surgery, the natural capsule that supports the intraocular lens may become cloudy over time. If this occurs, your ophthalmologist can perform an outpatient laser procedure (called YAG capsulotomy) to open this cloudy capsule, restoring clear vision.

Continue Learning about Cataracts

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.