What to Expect From Cataract Surgery

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on September 01, 2023
4 min read

If your vision gets cloudy because you have a cataract, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the lens of your eye and replace it with an artificial one. It's a common and safe procedure, and when it's done, you'll be able to see better.

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. You could have dim or blurred vision. You may also have double vision when you look at things through the eye with the cataract. These problems can make it hard to read, work on a computer, and do anything else that calls for clear eyesight.

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

Cataracts 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 you might need to get surgery even if your cataract doesn't bother you. Your doctor may suggest it if the cataract is large enough to crowd the inside of the eye, which can lead to increasing pressure in the eye. 

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

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

You'll be awake for the procedure, but your doctor will numb your eye with medicine, so you won't feel pain. They may also give you medication to help you relax.

The surgery usually takes well under an hour. Your surgeon will make a tiny cut in the front of your eye, sometimes with the help of a laser. Through this, they'll put in a small tool to break up the cataract and gently suction it out.

Next, they'll put in the new lens, which is made of plastic, silicone, or acrylic, and close the cut.

You won't need to stay overnight at the hospital, but you'll need someone to drive you home.

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

Side effects are rare from cataract surgery, but some things that could happen are:

  • Eye infection or swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Retinal detachment -- the breaking away of a layer of tissue at the back of your eye that senses light
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Temporary rise in eye pressure 12-24 hours after surgery


For a few days after surgery, your eye maybe itchy or feel scratchy. During this time, you may also have some tearing and 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 suggest you wear an eye shield while you sleep. This protects the site of your surgery so your eye can heal. If you're in pain or you 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.

Sometimes after cataract surgery, you may find that things start to look cloudy again. It happens because a lens capsule -- the part of your eye that holds your new artificial lens in place -- begins to thicken up.

You may hear your doctor call this by its medical name: posterior capsule opacification. The problem may not show up right away. You may notice it months or years later.

Your doctor may suggest a procedure called a YAG laser to fix it. This surgery takes a few minutes and is painless. A surgeon uses a laser to open up the thickening around the lens capsule and let more light get through your artificial lens. That will clear up your cloudy vision.