Although cataract surgery is considered a safe and effective procedure, all medical operations carry some degree of risk of a complication or adverse event. These incidents may occur during the operation itself or during the postoperative period.
While some things may be out of the control of both you and your eye surgeon, there are certain steps you can take to reduce your risk of a problem arising during your cataract surgery recovery period. Adhering to best practice guidelines for cataract surgery aftercare may also help to shorten your healing time, getting you back to doing the things you love sooner.
A Brief Explanation of Cataracts and Cataract Surgery
Cataracts are an opacity that forms in the crystalline lens of the eyeball. Increasing age tends to be responsible for the vast majority of cataract cases. As the cataract progresses, you will find your vision gradually becoming less distinct, and even your colour vision may become altered. Among other situations, people with cataracts may complain of difficulties with seeing fine detail, reading in low light, or driving at night.
In the early days of a mild cataract, you may find your vision can be sufficiently improved through changing your spectacle or contact lens prescription, or by increasing your ambient or task lighting. However, the only definitive treatment for a visually significant cataract is through cataract surgery.
During the cataract surgery procedure, the ophthalmologist will remove the cataract through a small incision in your cornea. This is a day procedure performed under topical or local anaesthesia. Most uncomplicated cataract surgeries take as little as 15 to 20 minutes. Once the cataract has been extracted, an artificial lens implant is then inserted in its place. This implant, known as an intraocular lens, is typically calculated to correct your eye’s prescription. This means many people are able to see clearly spectacle-free after their cataract operation.
After your cataract surgery, aftercare guidelines will be provided by your ophthalmologist. In order to optimise your cataract surgery recovery, it’s important to follow these instructions as best as you can.
What to Expect During Cataract Surgery Recovery?
Understanding what is and isn’t expected during your post-operative healing period can help you to act more quickly if something seems amiss.
As a general rule, if anything doesn’t seem quite right with your eye or vision, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your ophthalmologist. They may be able to advise you over the phone as to whether your concerns are something that needs to be attended to immediately, or whether it’s part of the normal course of your cataract surgery recovery.
Immediately after your operation, your vision may be already reasonably sharp, or at least much clearer than when the cataract was still present. Because the intraocular lens implant will be in place, you’ll find your prescription glasses and contacts are no longer the correct scripts.
However, don’t expect your vision to be crystal-clear straight after the operation. As your eye heals and the lens implant settles in its membrane, your vision may continue to shift and improve. A typical timeframe for your vision to settle completely is around 4 to 6 weeks.
Your eye may feel a little gritty for a week or so after the surgery and may look slightly red or puffy. Some people will experience dryness of the eyes that can persist for weeks or months.
At no point should the following be dismissed as normal during your recovery from cataract surgery:
- Increasing redness of the eye
- Decreasing vision
- Flashing lights or floating spots in the vision
- Pus or mucous discharge from the eye
- Sudden loss or black/greying out of any part of your vision
- Increasing pain in the eye
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist or optometrist immediately, or visit the emergency department of your local hospital.
Cataract Surgery Aftercare Guidelines
Your ophthalmologist may provide you with slightly different cataract surgery aftercare instructions depending on your specific circumstances. However, these are a general rule of thumb.
- Keep the eye protected. As your eye is still healing after cataract surgery, it’s important to protect it from any accidental bumps, pokes, or debris. Wear your provided eye shield as instructed. This may include for the first 24 hours and then overnight every night for the week following your cataract operation. Take a break from any activities that put your eye at risk, such as contact sports or rough play with your children.
- Keep the eye clean. In addition to taking care not to get dirt or dust in your eye, try to avoid any other chemicals or substances coming into contact with your eye as it’s healing. This includes cosmetics, moisturisers, soaps, shampoos, and cleansers. You’ll also want to steer clear of pools, the ocean, spas, and saunas as these are a source of a dangerous infection called acanthamoeba keratitis.
- Use your prescribed eye drops. Your ophthalmologist will provide you with a script for an antibiotic and one or two anti-inflammatory drops. Use these for the full course as directed; ceasing your medications early will put you at risk of rebound inflammation or an opportunistic eye infection.
If any instructions are unclear to you after your cataract surgery, you may want to discuss them with your ophthalmologist or local optometrist.
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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.