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Guide to Preparing for Cataract Surgery

preparing for cataract surgery

Cataract surgery is a common procedure that can significantly improve your vision and quality of life. However, like any surgical procedure, it requires some preparation. This article will provide a guide to help you prepare for your upcoming cataract surgery.

Understanding Cataract Surgery

Before we delve into the specifics of preparation, it’s important to understand what cataract surgery entails. Cataracts are a condition where the lens of your eye becomes cloudy, impairing your vision. Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. This procedure is typically performed on an outpatient surgery center and takes only a few minutes to perform.

You can watch this cataract surgery animation to better visualize how the procedure is performed.

Why is Cataract Surgery Needed?

Cataract surgery is needed when cataracts cause significant vision loss and interferes with daily activities. Symptoms of cataracts can include blurred vision, difficulty seeing at night, sensitivity to light and glare, seeing “halos” around lights, fading or yellowing of colors, and double vision in a single eye. If left untreated, cataracts can lead to total blindness, but this is a rare occurrence.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 75, approximately half of all Americans have cataracts.

Steps to Prepare for Cataract Surgery

Preparing for cataract surgery involves several steps. Here are some key aspects of the preparation process:

  • Medical Evaluation: Your eye doctor will review your medical history and conduct a thorough eye examination. The objective here is to confirm that your symptoms are indeed caused by cataracts.
  • Eye Measurements: You will have a pre-operative measurement visit to measure the size and shape of your eye. These measurements help your doctor choose the right type and power of your new intraocular lens implant (IOL).
  • Deciding on the Type of Intraocular Lens (IOL): You and your doctor will discuss and decide on the type of IOL that will replace your cloudy lens. The IOL can be monofocal (one fixed focus), extended depth, multifocal (multiple focuses). Toric IOLs can also correct astigmatism
  • Medications to Avoid: The surgery center may advise you to stop taking certain medications prior to your surgery to avoid any complications with fasting or anesthesia.
  • Arranging for Help Post-Surgery: Since you won’t be able to drive immediately after the surgery, you’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you home. Some surgery centers do offer transportation for the day of surgery.

Why should I stop wearing contact lenses before cataract surgery?

You should stop wearing contact lenses before cataract surgery because they can alter the shape of your cornea, which can affect the accuracy of the measurements that are taken during the pre-operative measurement visit. These measurements are crucial for choosing the right type of IOL to replace your cloudy lens. Typically, you’ll be asked to stop:

  • Soft contact lenses at least one week before your preoperative evaluation
  • Toric or rigid gas permeable lenses at least three weeks before the evaluation

Remember, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions closely to ensure a successful procedure and a smooth recovery.

Getting Clearance from Your Primary Care Doctor

Before your cataract surgery, you might be asked to obtain medical clearance from your primary care doctor. This is especially important if you have chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Your primary care doctor will evaluate your overall health and determine whether you’re fit for surgery. They may also provide recommendations for managing your medications before and after the surgery.

Managing Blood Thinners Before Cataract Surgery

Blood thinners like aspirin, Plavix, Eliquis, and coumadin, are usually continued with cataract surgery. Patients that are on coumadin will have their INR checked prior to the surgery to make sure that it is controlled. You may be asked to stop blood thinners in certain circumstances, like cataract surgery combines with a glaucoma procedure. You will receive specific instructions regarding use of blood thinners based on the type of procedure you are having.

Days Before Surgery Preparations

The days before your surgery are crucial for your preparation. Your doctor will provide specific instructions about eating and drinking before your surgery. Typically, you’ll be asked to fast (no food or drink) for at least 12 hours before your surgery. This is because anesthesia, which is used during the surgery, can cause nausea and vomiting if you have food in your stomach.

When do you start eye drops before cataract surgery?

eye drops preparing for cataract surgery

The timeline for starting eye drops before cataract surgery can vary depending on your doctor’s instructions. However, it’s common to start using antibiotic eye drops a one to three days before the surgery. These drops help prevent infection.

It’s crucial to use these drops as directed by your doctor, even if you don’t notice any symptoms of infection. Make sure to inform your doctor about any medication allergies during your initial consultation.

Anti inflammatory eye drops are also common to prescribe especially if you are diabetic. These are intended to reduce the chance of swelling after cataract surgery.

Night Before Cataract Surgery Preparations

The night before cataract surgery, you should:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about fasting. This usually means not eating or drinking anything after midnight.
  • Use any prescribed eye drops as directed.
  • Avoid using makeup, facial lotions, or creams. These can increase the risk of infection during the surgery.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. If you’re feeling anxious, try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.

Relaxation Techniques Prior to Surgery

Feeling anxious before cataract surgery is normal, but there are several strategies you can use to relax:

  • Educate Yourself: Understanding the procedure can help alleviate fears. Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor any questions you may have.
  • Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce anxiety.
  • Stay Positive: Maintaining a positive mindset can help. Remember, cataract surgery is a common procedure with a high success rate.
  • Get Support: Talk to friends or family about your feelings. You might also find it helpful to talk to someone who’s had cataract surgery.
  • Stay Healthy: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a good night’s sleep can all help reduce anxiety.

Day of Surgery Preparations

On the day of your surgery, you should take any prescribed medications with a small sip of water, unless you have been told otherwise. Again, you should avoid wearing makeup, facial lotions or creams, or aftershave. Simply wash your face with soap and water.

Make sure to wear comfortable, loose, clothing.

Managing Insulin the Morning of Surgery

If you have diabetes and take insulin, you’ll need to discuss with your surgery center how to manage your insulin the morning of your surgery. Because you’ll likely need to fast before the surgery, your usual insulin dosage may need to be adjusted to prevent low blood sugar. Your doctor may recommend checking your blood sugar more frequently or adjusting your insulin dosage.

It is common practice to be asked to hold your morning insulin dose. You may also be asked to bring your insulin with you to take after your surgery is complete.

Arriving At the Surgery Center

When you arrive at the surgical center, you’ll check in and complete any necessary paperwork. You’ll then be taken to a pre-operative area where a nurse will review your medical history and confirm the details of your surgery. You may also meet with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist to discuss the anesthesia you’ll receive during the surgery.

An intravenous line is placed so the anesthesia can be administered to help you relax. Dilating and numbing eye drops are placed in the operative eye.

This process usually takes about an hour. You are finally ready to be taken to the operating room.

It is important to understand what to expect during the surgical procedure. You can learn more about the procedure, the lens implants, risk and benefits on the procedure on our cataract surgery page.

Day of Surgery Checklist

Day of Cataract Surgery Checklist
  • Do not eat any food after midnight
  • Double check the time of your appointment
  • Confirm your transportation arrangements
  • Use your eye drops as instructed in the surgical eye
  • Take your oral medication as instructed by the surgery center
  • Wear comfortable, light weight clothing
  • Don’t wear any jewelry or apply perfumes
  • Don’t wear any make-up or apply any face creams or lotions
  • Bring your ID and insurance card

FAQs about Preparing for Cataract Surgery

  • What should I bring to the surgery center on the day of my surgery?

    You should bring your ID, insurance card, and a list of any medications you’re currently taking

  • What happens if I eat or drink before my surgery?

    Eating or drinking before your surgery can increase the risk of complications from anesthesia. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions about fasting. Eating or drinking before surgery could mean that your doctor will postpone your surgery to another day.

  • Can I drive myself home after the surgery?

    No, you should arrange for someone to drive you home after the surgery. Some surgery centers offer transportation for the day of surgery.


Preparing for cataract surgery involves several steps, from managing your medications to making lifestyle adjustments. By following your doctor’s instructions, you can ensure a successful procedure and a smooth recovery.

Remember, it’s important to ask your doctor any questions you may have about the preparation process. Your doctor is there to help you and wants to ensure that you feel comfortable and prepared for your surgery.