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Cataract Surgery Recovery: What To Expect

cataract surgery recovery

Cataract surgery is a common procedure that can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life by restoring clear vision.

As an experienced ophthalmologist, I’ve guided countless patients through this process, and I understand the concerns and questions that can arise, especially about recovery. This article aims to provide a guide to what you can expect during your cataract surgery recovery.

For a more in-depth understanding of the procedure itself, you can refer to our comprehensive guide to cataract surgery.

Normal Cataract Surgery Recovery Timeline

Immediate Post-Surgery Recovery (0-3 days)

Immediately after cataract surgery, it’s normal to experience:

  • blurry vision, as your eye adjusts to the removal of the cataract and the placement of a new intraocular lens
  • scratchiness, as your eyelid glides over the incision while blinking or while looking around
  • pressure sensation, as the internal eye pressure can be high after surgery

These symptoms are part of the normal recovery process.

Significant eye pain is not typical after cataract surgery.

Most patients notice a dramatic improvement in all of the symptoms the morning after their surgery.

During this phase, you will be wearing an eye shield at bedtime to avoid accidentally bumping your eye while sleeping.

protective eye shield to wear at bedtime

You will also avoid squeezing or rubbing your eyes while awake. Allowing the incision to heal (no stitches) is a crucial part of the first few days recovery after cataract surgery.

You will also focus on keeping up with the schedule of medicated eye drops that you were prescribed. These include antibiotic eye drops and one or two anti-inflammatory eye drops.

I typically prescribe a combination drop with all medications in one bottle for both convenience and cost.

You can continue with day to day normal activities but will want to avoid any strenuous activity. Using your vision is ok, like watching TV or reading, but again, the vision and comfort might not be there for you to do these activities well.

You will also have your first follow up visit to ensure the first eye is healing according to plan.

Short-Term Recovery (1-30 days)

Most people find that they can return to their normal routines after about three days following cataract surgery.

Vision Improvement

One of the most exciting parts of cataract surgery recovery is witnessing the improvement in your vision. In the days following your surgery, you’ll likely notice that colors are brighter and more vibrant, and your overall vision is clearer. You will start to notice more consistent vision.

Dry eye can become more noticeable during this phase. The surgical eye is irritated from the surgery, but can also become irritated from the medicated eye drops.

Over the counter artificial tears can be used regularly to help reduce irritation and speed up recovery after cataract surgery. Wait a few minutes between the medicated eye drops while using artificial tears.

Avoid any over the counter redness or itching relievers.

If you and your surgeon are happy with the results of the first eye surgery, then you will likely have the second eye surgery during this phase.

Long-Term Recovery (1-3 months)

The long-term recovery phase is when your eye heals completely and adjusts to its new intraocular lens. This typically takes around one month, but it can vary depending on individual factors such as your overall health, age, and how well you follow post-operative care instructions.

At this point, you would have had cataract surgery on both eyes and have completed all the prescribed eye drops.

A final follow up visit is scheduled to check how well you are adjusting and to take some final measurements.

If you chose a standard lens implant, you will be measured for glasses to help with distance and reading vision.

If you chose premium lens surgery and astigmatism correction, then your doctor will let you know if any over counter reading glasses are required.

Prolonged Recovery After Cataract Surgery

I try to set expectations for patients during their pre-operative consultation. The timing between eyes also depends on whether I expect them to experience prolonged or delayed recovery after cataract surgery.

Some patients will have prolonged recovery if they:

  • Are diabetic and have uncontrolled blood sugar
  • Have advanced cataracts
  • Have Fuchs corneal dystrophy (a genetic condition where the window of the eye becomes cloudy)
  • Have astigmatism that is not expected to be treated with surgery
  • Have had radial keratotomy (RK), a surgical procedure which causes the cornea to be unstable
  • Have a history of trauma in that eye
  • Experience any complications during or after cataract surgery

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

Some of these factors can cause healing after cataract surgery to take six or more months.

Also, depending on your surgeon’s areas of expertise, you may be referred to a specialist to assist in your recovery. For example, diabetics with retina swelling after cataract surgery may be referred to a retina specialist.

Remember, every patient’s recovery experience is unique, and it’s important to follow the specific advice and instructions given by your healthcare provider. In my experience, patients who are well-informed and prepared tend to have smoother recoveries and better outcomes.

Recommended Activities and Habits

Maintaining good eye hygiene is crucial during your recovery. Always wash your hands before touching your eye or administering eye drops. Use the prescribed eye drops as directed by your doctor to prevent infection and control inflammation. Wearing sunglasses can help protect your eye from sunlight and wind, which can cause discomfort.

Read more about what activities to avoid after cataract surgery here.

Continue Routine Eye Care Post-Recovery

Even after you’ve fully recovered from cataract surgery, it’s essential to continue with routine eye care. Regular eye exams can help detect any potential issues early and ensure that your eyes remain healthy.

Here are some conditions that your eye doctor will continue to monitor:

  • Glaucoma: This condition is characterized by increased pressure in the eye that can damage the optic nerve. Regular eye exams can help detect glaucoma early and start treatment to prevent vision loss.
  • Macular Degeneration: This age-related condition affects the part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision.
  • Posterior Capsular Opacification (PCO): Also known as a secondary cataract, PCO occurs when the back of the lens capsule, which is left in place during cataract surgery, becomes cloudy. Regular eye exams can help detect PCO early. If you notice a gradual decrease in vision or glare, your doctor can perform a simple laser procedure to treat it.

FAQs about Cataract Surgery Recovery

  • How many days rest is needed after cataract surgery?

    While most people can return to their normal routines within one to three days following cataract surgery, it’s important to avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting during this time. Full recovery typically takes around four weeks, but this can vary depending on individual factors.

  • What is the typical follow-up after cataract surgery?

    The first post-operative visit is typically scheduled for the day after your surgery. During this visit, your doctor will check your eye to ensure it’s healing properly. Depending on your progress, you might have a second follow up visit about a week later. The second eye surgery is usually one to two weeks after your first eye.

  • What is the fastest way to recover from cataract surgery?

    The fastest way to recover from cataract surgery is to follow your doctor’s instructions closely. This includes using prescribed eye drops, which include antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medicines. Regular follow-up appointments are also crucial to monitor your progress and catch any potential complications early.

  • How soon can you fly after cataract surgery?

    You should plan to follow up 24-48 hours after your cataract surgery. Your surgeon will be able to make assessment as to whether you are safe to fly. Generally, you should also plan for a follow up about a week later to check for any complications. Read our post on flying after cataract surgery for more detail.