What to Expect From Cataract Surgery

Woman with cataract.

What to Expect Before, During, and After Your Cataract Surgery

Cataracts cause blurred vision, sensitivity to light and other symptoms that make reading, walking and driving much more difficult. Fortunately, surgery offers a safe, effective way to improve your eyesight. If cataract surgery is on your calendar, here's what will happen before, during and after your procedure.

Before Surgery

A cataract forms when the clear lens located behind your iris and pupil becomes cloudy. During cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist replaces your clouded lens with an artificial lens called an intraocular lens implant (IOL).

Before your surgery, you and your eye doctor will decide which type of IOL is right for you. Types of IOLs include:

  • Monofocal: These lenses only offer one focusing distance. Depending on your preference, your monofocal lens can provide clear vision up close, at a distance or at a mid-range point. Many people prefer monofocal lenses that offer clear distance vision. They rely on glasses for reading and viewing near objects.
  • Multifocal: Multi-focal lenses offer multiple focusing zones that enable you to see objects clearly at any distance.
  • Accommodative: Accommodative lenses also allow you to see clearly at various distances. These lenses move with your eye muscles, allowing you to focus on near objects one second and far objects the next.
  • Toric: Toric lenses are a good choice if you have astigmatism. Astigmatism causes blurred vision due to an irregularly shaped cornea (the clear layer that covers your iris and pupil).

The pre-surgery process involves a few eye measurements and tests, including a test that will help your eye doctor determine the correct focusing power for your IOL. You'll also discuss your health and provide a list of current medications. One day before surgery, you'll begin using drops that help prepare your eye for surgery. These drops reduce the risk of infection and decrease inflammation.

You'll need to stop eating or drinking after midnight the night before your surgery in most cases. You may need to temporarily discontinue some medications before your cataract surgery. Your ophthalmologist will tell you which medications you should skip.

The Day of Surgery

A friend or family member will need to drive you to and from your surgical appointment. After you arrive at the facility, drops will be placed in your eye to dilate the pupil. You'll receive either local or intravenous anesthesia before surgery begins. Although you won't feel a thing during cataract surgery, you may see some hazy shapes.

Phacoemulsification, the most common way to perform cataract surgery, usually only takes about 15 minutes. During the phacoemulsification procedure, your eye doctor makes a small incision in your cornea or in the white part of your eye using a scalpel or laser. Sound waves from an ultrasonic device break the cataract into small pieces for easy removal. After the pieces of the cataract are suctioned out of your eye, your doctor inserts your IOL.

After Surgery

You'll probably be able to go home just an hour or two after your surgery. Before you step outside, you'll want to put on a pair of sunglasses, as bright light will irritate your eyes.

It's important to use your eye drops as prescribed and wear an eye shield for sleeping for the first week after surgery. You may also need to wear an eye patch for several days after your surgery.

While your eye heals, you may notice that it looks a little red. Redness is completely normal and will gradually disappear in a few days or weeks. Although your eye may be a little inflamed, it probably won't hurt very much. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be helpful if you have mild pain for a day or two after the procedure.

You may notice that your vision is clearer and colors are brighter just a few hours after surgery, although it will probably take a week or more for the full benefits of the surgery to become obvious.

You'll need to avoid heavy lifting, exercising or bending during the first week. Water, dust, and dirt can irritate your eye and cause an infection. It's best to keep your eyes closed when bathing, avoid swimming and put off home improvement projects until you fully recover.

Have your cataracts begun to interfere with your daily activities? Cataract surgery can clear your vision. Contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss your options.


AAO: Cataract Surgery Infographic


All About Vision: Cataract Surgery


Mayo Clinic: Cataract Surgery


Prevent Blindness America: Guide to Cataract Surgery


National Eye Institute: Facts About Cataract


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