What to Know, Do, and Expect After Cataract Surgery

Now that the procedure is done, take care of your healing eyes with this expert advice.

What to expect after cataract surgery

Although cataract surgery may sound scary, it is one of the most common eye procedures in the United States. There are more than 2 million procedures each year to replace a cloudy natural lens with a clear artificial one, according to Prevent Blindness, an organization that has promoted eye health for more than 100 years. And it’s less risky than you may think: More than 95% of these surgeries are performed without any complications.   

Once your cataract surgery is done, you may wonder what your recovery will look like. We asked Jennifer Mai, O.D., an optometrist with America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. 

Have concerns about your vision or eye health? Reach out to your America’s Best optometrist, who is an important part of your care team. Find an appointment time that fits your schedule!  

Q: How long does it take to recover? 

A: Everyone heals on a different timeline, but most of the discomfort should be gone in a few days, says Dr. Mai. A full recovery may take up to eight weeks. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says to follow this advice in the days and weeks after your procedure: 

  • Use the prescribed eye drops on the schedule that your doctor recommends. 
  • Avoid getting soap or water in your eyes
  • Do not rub or press on your eye. You may need to wear eyeglasses or a shield to protect your eyes. (These tips to stop touching your eyes may help.) 
  • Wear a protective eye shield when you sleep. 

Your surgeon may also put some restrictions on what activities you can do as you heal. Light exercise such as walking is fine after surgery, but avoid swimming, strenuous exercise, and yoga positions, as well as other exercises that put your head below your waist. That’s to lower the chances of increased eye pressure, which may interfere with your healing. 

Q: Are there any complications from the procedure? 

A: Every surgery comes with some risk, but complications after cataract surgery are uncommon and can usually be treated successfully. Dr. Mai says it’s important to talk to your eye doctor if you experience any of these potential problems: 

  • Blurred vision 
  • Seeing halos, glare, or dark shadows 
  • Pain that does not get better with over-the-counter medicine 
  • Eye infection or swelling 
  • Bleeding in the eye 
  • A detached retina (when the retina lifts from the back of the eye) 
  • Damage to other parts of the eye 

Q: How often will I need to have my eyes examined afterward? 

A: Even with the cataract issue resolved, you still need to stay on top of your eye health. You can resume having yearly eye exams as recommended by your doctor after you recover from your surgery. “Regular eye exams will remain important in monitoring eye health,” Dr. Mai says. 

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Q: Will my prescription change after the surgery?  

A: Most likely, yes. Once your eyes have healed and your surgeon has given you the all clear (typically about three months after your cataract surgery), you’ll need to have your vision checked again.  

“The implanted lens doesn’t bend light into the eye in the same way as the natural lens, so expect to see differences in your vision from pre-surgery to post-surgery,” Dr. Mai says. 

Q: Will I need any type of vision aid after the procedure? 

A: It’s pretty likely that you will, even though your prescription is factored into the implanted lens to minimize your reliance on glasses and contacts, Dr. Mai says. The process of correcting your vision, though, will be the same as before your surgery.  

“You’ll need regular eye exams to monitor your vision and find the correction option that works best for you,” she adds.   

Q: Do I need to wear sunglasses after cataract surgery?  

A. Yes. Everyone should be wearing sunglasses whenever they’re outside, regardless of whether or not they’ve had cataract surgery. But it’s even more important for people who’ve had the procedure: “After you’ve had cataract surgery, you lose your natural lens, which acts as a UV filter for your eyes,” Dr. Mai explains.  

Modern intraocular implants do have UV protection; however, the American Optometric Association recommends also wearing sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. (Look for the words “100% UV protection” or “UV 400” on the frames.)  

Make sure that the sunglasses fit close to your eyes and contour to your face. Otherwise, ultraviolet rays could sneak in through the sides of the glasses and damage your eyes. (Shop the latest sunglasses styles here.) 

Recommended reading: The America’s Best Guide to Sunglasses 

Q: What if you use eye drops for conditions such as dry eye or glaucoma? Will cataract surgery affect that? 

A: The short answer is no. You will have to pause the use of drops for dry eye, depending on the treatment, before your cataract surgery. But as long as your doctor approves, you can use them afterward. If you have more severe dryness, your doctor will most likely advise that you start using the drops before you get your vision rechecked for new glasses or contacts.  

With glaucoma drops, you can continue to use them after your recovery, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, Dr. Mai says. What’s more, “in some cases, concurrent glaucoma and cataract surgeries are performed to lessen glaucoma drop use,” she adds.  

Medically reviewed by Jennifer Mai, O.D. 

See our sources: 
Cataract surgery: Prevent Blindness  
Surgery risks: American Academy of Ophthalmology 
Sunglasses and eye protection: American Optometric Association 

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