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The day of cataract surgery can be filled with anticipation and anxiety. Educating yourself on the procedure and planning ahead will help make the day a success for you.
Most doctors tell their patients not to eat anything, particularly solid foods for at least six hours before surgery. Some recommend not eating anything after midnight the day prior to surgery.
Cataract surgery itself is a relatively straightforward procedure. It typically takes less than 45 minutes, and you will be sent home the same day. Just after the procedure, you will rest at the hospital for up to half an hour before being sent home with postoperative care instructions.
Pre-surgery anxiety is a normal response to any upcoming surgery. You can manage your anxiety by speaking with your doctor about your concerns, preparing for the day well in advance, and having a caring loved one by your side as you get ready for surgery.
The Day of Cataract Surgery
On the day of cataract surgery, you should plan to dedicate the entire day to your surgery. While the surgery itself is relatively quick, you will need to show up a few hours early to your surgery center and allow for sufficient recovery time after surgery.
Planning out the day ahead of time, as well as your recovery support system, is the best way to make the day go as smoothly as possible. Rest assured that millions of people around the world receive successful cataract surgeries each year.
What You Can & Can’t Eat Beforehand
Prior to the day of cataract surgery, your ophthalmologist will provide you with preoperative instructions. Follow these instructions closely to ensure a smooth and successful surgery.
A standard instruction is to not eat or drink anything after midnight the day of your surgery. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends not eating any solid foods at least six hours prior to surgery.
Most people do not require complete sedation during the procedure, but doctors don’t want any food to interfere with general anesthesia you get, should you need it. However, most cataract surgery is only done with local anesthesia, without putting the patient to sleep.
Once you are settled in at the outpatient surgery center or hospital where you will be getting your surgery done, you will be prepped for surgery. AAO outlines a typical cataract procedure as follows:
- First, your eyes will be numbed so you don’t feel a thing during surgery. Additional medicine to help you relax may also be administered.
- You will stay awake throughout the whole surgery, though the only things you will be able to sense are light and movement in front of your eyes.
- The surgeon will perform the procedure to remove your cloudy natural lens and replace it with a clear artificial one. The whole procedure typically takes just 30 to 45 minutes.
- Once the procedure is done, a shield will be placed over your eye to protect it and promote healing.
- After a short wait in the recovery area, you will be sent home to rest and recover in peace and quiet.
Just After the Procedure
As soon as your cataract surgery is complete, the doctor will likely leave you in a recovery area for 15 to 30 minutes, explains AAO. This allows your eyes time to rest and for doctors to observe any immediate reactions you may have to the surgery or anesthesia.
Once your eye is covered properly and the doctor clears you to leave, you are free to go home. You won’t be able to drive yourself home, so it is important that you arrange a driver ahead of time.
Before you leave, your ophthalmologist will give you a set of aftercare instructions. These instructions often include information on administering drops, what to expect as you heal, and a timeline for when you can start various activities again.
Just after surgery, it is normal to have some swelling and mild pain in the eye that was operated on. For most people, over-the-counter pain medicines are enough to ease such discomfort. If pain does not go away or gets worse, be sure to report your symptoms to your doctor at your first follow-up appointment the day after surgery.
Managing Pre-Surgery Anxiety
It is normal to experience some anxiety before you have surgery. Cataract surgery is no exception. Although it is considered a safe and effective procedure, there are risks associated with all surgeries. Understanding some of the facts about cataract surgery may help reduce pre-surgery anxiety.
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), cataract surgery is one of the safest and most effective surgeries performed in the United States. Nearly 90 percent of people who receive cataract surgery report having better vision after surgery.
Even if you understand the safety and efficacy of the procedure, anxiety can persist. Here are some tips for managing pre-surgery anxiety:
- Know that cataract surgery is a common procedure.
- Educate yourself on cataracts and cataract surgery.
- Plan everything well in advance.
- Follow all preoperative instructions given to you by your doctor.
- Distract yourself by reading a book, listening to music, or watching a TV show.
- Talk to your doctor about your anxiety.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as meditation, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises.
- Use alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, and massage, to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Have a loved one accompany you to the surgery to provide compassionate support.
- Make sure everything is set up for you at home to aid a comfortable recovery.
Doing what you can to educate, prepare, and relax yourself ahead of surgery will go a long way to reducing pre-surgery anxiety. Likewise, sharing your anxieties with your doctors and loved ones can also help to make you feel more comfortable going into surgery.
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Cataract Surgery. (September 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
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Overview: Cataract Surgery. National Health Service: UK.
Pre Surgery Anxiety Guide. (September 2020). New Jersey Neck and Back Institute.