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Post-Cataract Surgery – Timeline and Tips for Recovery

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What Is the Recovery Time for Cataract Surgery?

Recovery from cataract surgery generally takes two to four weeks. You’ll want to be very careful with your eye following cataract surgery. Your ophthalmologist will provide you with clear, detailed instructions for the hours, days, and weeks after your cataract surgery. This article covers the recovery timeline and general post-op care instructions.

Post Op Instructions for Cataract Surgery

General post op instructions for cataract surgery typically include:

  1. Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise for a few weeks.
  2. Do not bend over for a couple days.
  3. Avoid swimming for the weeks following surgery.
  4. Protect your eye from irritants.
  5. Don’t rub your eye.

Post-Cataract Surgery Care: Timeline & Stages

Cataract surgery is most often an outpatient procedure, so you will be able to go home the same day your cataract is removed. This means that most of the recovery process will be at home, with some follow-up visits to your ophthalmologist to make sure your eye is healing properly.

It is important to closely follow your ophthalmologist’s guidelines for recovery, so you are at less risk of developing complications from the procedure, like inflammation, infection, swelling in the retina, pain, detached retina or lens, and vision loss.

Your ophthalmologist will give you a more detailed schedule of the recovery timeline and expectations, but here are some general recommendations to follow after cataract surgery.

Recovery PhaseActivity/ConditionAdvice/Expectation
Immediately after surgery-Watery eyes
-Feeling like you have grit in your eyes
-Blurry or double vision
-A red or bloodshot eye
-No driving
-Wear sunglasses
-Use medicated eye drops
-Protect your eye with a shield while sleeping
A few days later-Discomfort begins to clear
-Possible need for eyeglasses
-No soap and water directly into your eye
-Avoid hair products, perfumes, face washes, lotions, and makeup
-No strenuous activities
-Follow-up exam with ophthalmologist
Weeks later-Vision improvement continues
-Possibility for second surgery if both eyes have cataracts
-Final post-surgical follow-up exam about one month after surgery
-Colors may seem brighter, vision clearer

Immediately After Surgery

Once cataract surgery has been completed, and your time in the recovery area has allowed initial recovery from sedation, you can return home Because some of the medication effects will linger for 24 hours and your vision will be impacted immediately after surgery, it is not safe to drive yourself home. It is important that you have someone you trust take you back home after the procedure.

While this is typically an outpatient operation, it is still an operation, and you may experience grogginess, discomfort, or pain after the surgery. Normal side effects in the first day after surgery include:

  • Watery eyes.
  • Feeling like you have grit in your eyes.
  • Blurry or double vision.
  • A red or bloodshot eye.

You may receive medicated eye drops to treat discomfort and reduce the risk of swelling and infection. You should also receive a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun or lights, and it is important to wear these for the length of time recommended by your ophthalmologist. To ensure the safety of your eyes overnight, you may also receive an eye patch, shield or a protective visor to wear to bed so your eye is not hit or poked in your sleep.

A Few Days Later

You may still experience some physical discomfort in the eye that underwent cataract surgery, but these symptoms should begin to clear up within 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. You may be using medicated eye drops for several days to weeks after the procedure, which may require cleaning around the outside of your eye.

Follow your eye doctor’s instructions for this very closely to avoid getting anything, aside from the prescribed eye drops, in your eye.

After you return home, you should be careful not to get soap and water directly into your eye for the period of time recommended by your ophthalmologist. Although you should be able to perform normal activities like showering within a day after this outpatient surgery, you may need to protect your eye while you bathe. You should also avoid many hair products, perfumes, face washes, lotions, and makeup for a few days while your eye heals. You may wear special eyeglasses for a few days after surgery to prevent you from poking, rubbing, or scratching your eye. Mild itching and discomfort are common for a few days after the procedure, but it is important to avoid touching your eye during this time.

Makeup, Skincare, Showering and Washing Hair after Cataract Surgery

After you return home, you should be careful not to get soap and water directly into your eye for the period of time recommended by your ophthalmologist. Although you should be able to perform normal activities like showering within a day after this outpatient surgery, you may need to protect your eye while you bathe. You should also avoid many hair products, perfumes, face washes, lotions, and makeup for a few days while your eye heals. 

Special Eyeglasses for Post-Cataract Surgery Care

You may wear special eyeglasses for a few days after surgery to prevent you from poking, rubbing, or scratching your eye. Mild itching and discomfort are common for a few days after the procedure, but it is important to avoid touching your eye during this time.

After two to three days, this itching and discomfort will clear up. If it does not go away, or it gets worse, speak with your doctor.

Glasses After Cataract Surgery

You may need to wear glasses to correct your vision after cataract surgery. Although your vision should become clearer within a day or so after surgery, you may need help seeing objects up close if you have the basic monofocal lens implanted. This lens will not correct for different ranges of sight. Toric lens implants will correct astigmatism and usually aid in distance vision without glasses. Premium lenses will usually reduce the need for any prescription for distance and near vision tasks.

Activities to Avoid

While you can perform many basic activities the day after surgery, like watching television and moving around your house, more strenuous activities should be avoided. Your ophthalmologist will work with you to determine which aspects of your lifestyle are safe to perform, such as reading, up-close hobbies like sewing, driving, or physically strenuous activities like exercise. It is important to follow your ophthalmologist’s advice closely because you are at risk of dislocating the new lens.

Typically, you will see your ophthalmologist a day or two after your surgery. You may still need help getting to and from your eye doctor’s office. You will have another follow-up exam a week or two later. 

Recovery from Cataract Surgery in Both Eyes

If you have cataracts in both eyes that require surgery, your ophthalmologist will typically operate on one eye first, wait for the eye to recover, and then schedule the second surgery. While this lengthens your overall vision recovery time, it allows for an adjustment period. You will be able to see out of one eye and know whether there may be complications during the healing process. A one to two week wait before the second eye is typical, though in some cases it may be longer.

Same day sequential surgery for both eyes, while relatively uncommon, is sometimes recommended.

Weeks After Cataract Surgery

You can expect considerable vision improvement in one to three days after surgery: colors may seem brighter quickly and your vision should be clearer overall. However, your vision will most likely keep improving. Getting to the best vision will probably take weeks or longer.

Type of Lens and Vision Improvement

Post-cataract surgery vision improvement greatly depends on the type of lens you choose, and pre existing conditions you may have. If you elect the premium lens implant option your vision will be good to begin with,  but it may continue to improve for 6 months or even longer. This lens option will give you better focus without glasses at distance and near.

Keep in mind that you are not likely to recover perfect vision (20/20 vision) with the basic single vision lens implant.  You are likely to have 20/30 or 20/40 vision without any corrective wear (like glasses). If you have a moderate to large amount of preoperative astigmatism, a toric lens implant will be needed to ensure similar results. This level of vision usually qualifies for driving without glasses, though corrective lenses are needed for any near work. 

Final Consultation with Your Ophthalmologist

Your final post surgical follow-up exam with your ophthalmologist should be about one month after your surgery. This is the standard expected recovery time, though each eye can vary. With the exams before the one-month mark, your eye doctor should be able to catch any problems that come up after cataract surgery and treat these as needed.

Once your eyes have healed fully after cataract surgery, your doctor will give you your final eyeglass prescription. This is not likely to change much over time because the artificial lens in your eye will not change shape or clarity like a biological lens would.

Recommendations for After Cataract Care

In the days and weeks after your surgery, it is recommended that you:

person putting eye drops in their eye
  • Use prescription eye drops as detailed by your ophthalmologist.
  • Follow all the recommendations of your ophthalmologist and/or eye surgeon.
  • Rest and relax for two to three days.
  • Use your eye shield every night for at least one week.
  • Wear the eye shield while showering, especially if washing your hair.
  • Perform normal, low-impact activities like using a computer, reading, or watching TV as normal.
  • Avoid swimming during recovery for four to eight weeks.

It is important to avoid for four to eight weeks:

  • Rubbing your eye.
  • Getting foreign objects in your eye, like shampoo.
  • Performing strenuous activities like running, swimming or yoga.
  • Driving before getting the all-clear from your eye doctor.
  • Flying without your doctor’s knowledge and approval.


You can return to work a few days or weeks after the procedure, depending on what type of job you have.

Recovered Vision Is Likely After Cataract Surgery

It is important to follow your eye doctor’s instructions for at-home, post-cataract surgery care. Attend all follow-up exams so your doctor can ensure your eye is healing properly. If you experience problems with your vision, ongoing or worsening discomfort or pain, swelling, or redness, or loss of vision, report these to your doctor immediately.

Because cataract surgery has been performed for decades and the technology used has progressively improved, it has a high success rate and a low rate of complications. When you do undergo cataract surgery, the bulk of your recovery time will be at home, so it is important to understand exactly how to take care of yourself, which your ophthalmologist will make clear.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cataract surgery painful?

Patients usually don’t experience any pain during cataract surgery. Numbing drops are used beforehand, so you won’t feel pain.

Do I need to have my cataract removed immediately?

Not necessarily. Doctors often monitor mild cataracts rather than removing them. Sometimes, a cataract will never develop to the point where it needs to be removed. Once it starts impacting vision, it is generally time to remove it.

Does insurance cover cataract surgery?

Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, will cover cataract surgery.

How long do I need to take off work?

Most people return to work within a day or two if your job does not require significant physical activity. You can return as soon as you feel comfortable to do so.

Can I drive myself home after cataract surgery?

No. You will be unable to drive, so you must have someone drive you home.

References

  1. Cataract Surgery. (March 22, 2018). Mayo Clinic.
  2. Cataract Surgery Recovery. (October 2016). All About Vision.
  3. Cataract Surgery. (November 9, 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
  4. Recovery: Cataract Surgery. (December 14, 2017). National Health Services (NHS).
  5. Cataract Surgery: What to Expect at Home. (December 3, 2017). MyHealth.Alberta.ca.

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