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Cataract Surgery

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye (the clear part of the eye that helps to focus light). This can make your vision cloudy. Surgery is the only way to get rid of cataracts.

Who needs cataract surgery?

Your eye doctor will probably suggest cataract surgery if you have vision loss that gets in the way of everyday activities like reading, driving, or watching TV.

Your doctor might also recommend surgery even if your cataracts aren’t the main cause of your vision problems. For example, you may need to have cataracts removed so your doctor can see into the back of your eye. This can help them track and treat other eye conditions, like diabetic retinopathy or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

You don’t need to rush to have surgery to get rid of cataracts. Ask your eye doctor about the risks and benefits of cataract surgery to decide if it’s right for you.

Keep in mind that if you have cataracts in both eyes, you’ll need to have surgery on each eye at a separate time, usually about a month apart.

How do I prepare for cataract surgery?

You’ll probably need to take a few steps to get ready for your cataract surgery. Your eye doctor will tell you exactly what you need to do.

Before your surgery

  • Visit your eye doctor. About a week before your surgery, your eye doctor will do some tests to measure the size and shape of your eye. These tests help your eye doctor choose the right kind of artificial lens (called an intraocular lens, or IOL).
  • Use special eye drops. Your eye doctor may prescribe these eye drops to help protect your eye from getting an infection.
  • Stop taking some medications. Tell your eye doctor about any medications you take. If you take a medication that could cause bleeding during your surgery, your eye doctor may ask you to stop taking it for a little while.
  • Don’t eat or drink the night before. Your eye doctor may tell you to stop eating and drinking several hours before your surgery. 
  • Clean your eyelids and eye lashes. Your eye doctor may have you clean your eyelids and eyelashes with baby shampoo the night before and the morning of your surgery to get rid of any germs that could cause an infection.

The day of your surgery

Be sure to bring a friend or family member with you the day of your surgery. You won’t be able to drive afterward — so you’ll need someone to make sure you get home safely.

What happens during cataract surgery?

During surgery, your eye doctor will remove the cloudy lens from your eye and replace it with an artificial lens (called an intraocular lens, or IOL). The surgery lasts about 1 hour and is almost painless.

Usually, you’ll be awake during cataract surgery. You might notice lights or motion, but you won’t be able to see what your doctor is doing. Your eye doctor can give you medicine to help you stay relaxed and calm during the surgery.

When you get this surgery, your eye doctor will:

  • Put numbing drops into your eye to keep you from feeling anything 
  • Use tiny tools to cut into your eye, break up the lens, and take it out 
  • Place the new artificial lens in your eye

After your eye doctor places your new lens, you’ll need to rest in a recovery area outside the operating room for a little while. Before you go home, the medical team will check to make sure you don’t have any problems with your eye.

What happens after cataract surgery?

Your eye doctor will explain how to protect your eye after cataract surgery. They’ll give you eye drops to help your eye heal, and you may need to wear a special eye shield or glasses. You may also need to avoid some activities for a few weeks — like touching your eye, bending over, or lifting heavy things. 

Your eye may feel a bit itchy or uncomfortable and sensitive to light and touch. After 1 or 2 days, your eye should feel better.

Call your eye doctor right away if you notice any of these problems after surgery:

  • Vision loss 
  • Bad pain that won’t go away even if you take medicine for it 
  • Very red eyes 
  • Floaters — flashes of light or a lot of small dark spots or squiggly lines that float across your vision

Most people are completely healed 8 weeks after their surgery. Your eye doctor will schedule checkups to make sure your eye is healing correctly. 

Will my vision be normal after cataract surgery?

About 9 out of 10 people who get cataract surgery see better afterward, but your vision might be blurry at first while your eye recovers.  

Some people notice that colors seem brighter after cataract surgery. This is because the artificial lens doesn’t have the noticeable yellow or brown tint your natural lens had from the cataract. 

Once your eye is completely healed, you might need a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses to see clearly.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is one of the most common, safe, and effective types of surgery done in the United States. But like with any surgery, there are risks. For example:

  • Swelling, bleeding, or infections
  • Vision loss or double vision
  • Unusual changes in eye pressure
  • Retinal detachment
  • Secondary cataracts (posterior capsule opacity)

Your eye doctor can treat these problems, but it’s best to start treatment as soon as possible. Be sure to go to all your checkups, and call your eye doctor if you notice anything wrong with your eyes or vision.  

Secondary cataracts

After cataract surgery, some people may develop a condition known as a secondary cataract, or posterior capsule opacification. Secondary cataracts can appear weeks, months, or even years after cataract surgery. The good news is your eye doctor can fix them with laser treatment.

Learn more about secondary cataracts

Last updated: January 4, 2023