What to Expect From Cataract Surgery

A cataract is a clouding of the eye lens that can make it hard for you to see. The condition is most common in older people, but anyone can have one.

If your vision starts to cloud up, you can have your cataract removed and a plastic implant put in its place. That may sound scary, but it can improve your eyesight and make your life easier in lots of ways.

Who Should Have Surgery?

If you have a cataract, that doesn’t always mean you need surgery. You may not even notice any change in your vision. Some people who have this condition see just fine if they wear prescription glasses, use a magnifying lens, or rely on brighter lighting.

But as cataracts grow, they can cause more symptoms and cause problems in everyday life.

You could have dim, blurred, yellow, or double vision. This can make it hard to read, work on a computer, and anything else that calls for clear eyesight.

You may have poor night vision and find it harder to drive when it’s dark. People with advanced cataracts can even fail the vision part of a driver’s test.

They can make you more sensitive to glare from the sun. You might see a halo around bright lights. This can keep you from being outdoors as much as you’d like. It also makes it harder to play some sports, such as skiing or golf.

If you have any of these symptoms, surgery could help.

Sometimes it’s necessary to get a cataract removed even if it doesn’t bother you. Your doctor may suggest surgery if yours keeps you from having a complete eye exam or makes it hard to treat another eye condition you have.

How Do I Prepare For It?

A week or two before the date of your procedure, your doctor will do some tests to measure the size and shape of your eye. This way he can choose the best lens implant for you.

He’ll probably tell you not to eat or drink anything for 12 hours before the surgery.


What Happens?

The surgery usually takes under an hour. Most people feel very little pain.

First, your doctor will numb your eye with anesthetic, meaning you will be awake for the procedure. He may also give you medicine to help you relax.

He’ll make a tiny cut in the front of your eye. Through this, he’ll insert a small tool to break up the cataract and gently suction it out. Then, he’ll insert the new lens implant, which is made of plastic, silicone or acrylic, and close the incision. Your doctor may sew in stitches.

You won’t need to stay overnight at the hospital. Cataract surgery is done as an outpatient procedure. But you will need someone to drive you home.

If you have cataracts in both eyes, you’ll probably be scheduled for two separate surgeries, typically a few weeks apart. This gives the first eye a chance to heal.

What Are the Side Effects?

Cataract surgery is very safe. Side effects are rare. Still, problems you could have include:

  • Eye infection or swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Retina detachment
  • Feeling of pressure inside your eye
  • Loosening of new implant
  • Fluid buildup in eye
  • Drooping eyelid

After Surgery

Your eye may itch or feel sore for a few days after. It’s also common to have some fluid discharge. You might also find it hard to see well in bright light.

Your doctor will give you eyedrops to prevent infection. You’ll need to take it easy for a few days. Driving will be off-limits, and you shouldn’t bend over, pick up heavy things, or put any pressure on your eye.

For the first week, your doctor will likely recommend sleeping in an eye shield. This will protect the site of your surgery so your eye can heal. If you’re in pain or feel your eye isn’t healing like it should, tell your doctor right away.

After 8 weeks, your eye should be fully healed. About 90% of people see better after cataract surgery. But don’t expect your vision to be perfect -- you may still need to wear glasses or contacts.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on 4/, 016



American Academy of Ophthalmology: “When Is the Right Time to Have Cataract Surgery?” “Cataract Surgery,” “What Is Macular Degeneration?”

Mayo Clinic: “Cataract Surgery: What You Can Expect.”

Digital Journal of Ophthalmology: “The Risks and Benefits of Cataract Surgery.”

American Foundation for the Blind/VisionAware: “Our Readers Want To Know: When Should I Have Cataract Surgery?” “What are the Risks of Cataract Surgery?”

National Eye Institute: “Facts About Cataract.”

American Optometric Association: “Cataract Surgery.”

Vision Australia: “Cataracts.”

British Medical Journal: “Cataracts: Should I Have Surgery?”

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