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Cataract Surgery

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye that can make it hard to see clearly. Surgery is the only way to get rid of cataracts.

Who needs cataract surgery?

Your 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.  

Sometimes, your doctor might recommend cataract surgery even if your cataracts aren’t the main cause of your vision problems. For example, cataracts might need to be removed so that your doctor can see the back of your eye. If you have another eye condition, like diabetic retinopathy or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), your doctor will need to see the back of your eye to help you manage it.  

Cataracts are not a medical emergency, and you don’t need to rush to have surgery to remove them. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of cataract surgery to decide if it’s is right for you.  

How do I prepare for cataract surgery?

At your doctor’s office before the day of the surgery, your doctor will do some tests to measure the size and shape of your eye. You may need to use some special eye drops before the surgery, and your doctor may tell you not to eat anything the night before your surgery. 

You won’t be able to drive yourself home after the surgery, and you’ll need a friend or family member to make sure you get home safely — so be sure to bring someone with you. 

If you have cataracts in both eyes, you’ll need to have surgery on each eye at a separate time, usually about 4 weeks apart. 

What happens during cataract surgery?

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

Usually, you will be awake during cataract surgery. You might notice lights or motion, but you won’t be able to see what your doctor is doing. 

When you get this surgery, your 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 

Right after surgery, you will 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 doctor will explain how to protect your eye after cataract surgery. They will give you eye drops to help your eye heal and you may need to wear a special eye shield or glasses. You may 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 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 
  • Flashes of light or a lot of small dark spots or squiggly lines that float across your vision (floaters

Most people are completely healed 8 weeks after their surgery. Your 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 is clear, while your natural lens had a yellow or brown tint 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 any surgery, there are risks, including: 

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

Your doctor can treat these problems if they are caught early. Be sure to go to all of your checkups, and call your doctor if you notice anything wrong with your eyes or your vision. 

What is secondary cataract?

After cataract surgery, some people may develop a condition called secondary cataract, or posterior capsule opacification. Secondary cataracts aren’t actually cataracts, because they’re caused by cloudiness on the outside of your lens, not the inside — but they make your vision cloudy. Secondary cataracts can appear weeks, months, or even years after cataract surgery — but they are easy to fix with a laser treatment in the doctor’s office.

Last updated: September 22, 2020