Undergoing cataract surgery can cause both apprehension and excitement. Yes, no one is keen on having a surgical procedure done to an organ as delicate as the eye, yet clearer (and potentially spectacle-free) vision is on the way. Once the cataract surgery procedure is complete, your ophthalmologist will give you a list of post-operative instructions to follow during your cataract surgery recovery period. Although different cataract surgeons may have slight variations in their preferred specifics of eye care after cataract surgery, here are some general guidelines.
Eye Care After Cataract Surgery
Optimising your cataract surgery recovery involves following your doctor’s instructions. Although cataract surgery is a very common procedure in Australia, there is always a low risk of a complication or adverse effect occurring during the postoperative period. Being meticulous about your eye care after cataract surgery will help to minimise this risk.
Use your prescribed eye drops
After your cataract surgery procedure, your eye specialist will prescribe you two or three medicated eye drops. This will include an antibiotic to prevent any opportunistic eye infections, and one or two anti-inflammatory eye drops. You will most likely start with these drops around four times a day and be asked to use them for about four weeks or until the bottles are empty. Although this sounds like a long time and a lot of effort, finishing the prescribed course of medication is important as it will help your eye to heal. If you stop taking the eye drops too soon, it may result in prolonged eye inflammation and an extended cataract surgery recovery period.
Take a rest for as long as necessary
As with many surgical operations, cataract surgery can really take it out of you. You may feel drowsy or fatigued after your procedure, especially if you were administered light sedation to help calm any nerves. You will have already been advised to have someone drive you home after the procedure; if you still don’t feel quite right the following day, make sure you don’t get behind the wheel until you do. Let yourself have a break from house chores and work for at least a few days.
Attend your review appointments
Many eye surgeons and their clinical team will perform a review appointment one day after your cataract surgery, one week later, and then a month later. This is to ensure that your eye is healing as expected and your vision is stabilising.
Although it is extra time out of your day, turning up for these appointments is important as it may catch problems early. In some cases, it may be appropriate to have your post-cataract check-ups with your local optometrist, who will keep in communication with your eye surgeon. This can make it easier for those who live inconveniently far from their eye surgeon or if it’s difficult to get an appointment at the ophthalmology clinic.
Protect your eye
It goes without saying that you should keep your eye clean and protected during the cataract surgery recovery period. Exposing your operated eye to dirt, dust, pathogens, and the risk of trauma too early can have devastating consequences on your vision, not to mention prolonging your recovery time. Immediately after your cataract operation, you will have a protective plastic shield taped over the operated eye. Your eye surgeon may want you to keep this on for the first 24 hours, including overnight, and then only at night for the following week or so. Try to avoid areas that you know are hazardous for a healing eye, such as a dusty basement, dirty construction site, or even a windy park. For the first week or so you may also want to avoid any soaps or makeup around your eye area, as well as getting any unsterile water in the eye, such as from swimming pools and saunas.
Be vigilant about any unexpected symptoms
Although some pain, redness, grittiness, and glare sensitivity are entirely normal immediately following your procedure, some symptoms can be a sign that your eye is not healing as it should. These symptoms include:
- Increasing pain and redness
- A discharge from the eye
- Deteriorating vision
- Headaches or nausea
- Seeing floaters or flashing lights
If experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact your eye surgeon immediately and without delay. If you are unable to get in touch with your usual ophthalmology clinic, you may want to contact your local optometrist or take yourself to the nearest hospital emergency department.
After the Post-Op Period
Even long after your post-operative period, eye care after cataract surgery doesn’t stop there. Many people believe that since they no longer need glasses or contact lenses after having had their cataracts removed, it’s no longer necessary to have regular eye tests. Although you’re not going to be bothered by a cataract again, there is still the possibility of another eye condition occurring. Older patients, the typical demographic for cataract surgery, also tend to be at a higher risk of other eye diseases such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, making it even more important to maintain regular contact with your local optometrist or ophthalmologist. In Australia, the general recommendation is to see an optometrist once a year if you’re over 65, even if you don’t think you have any eye or vision problems.
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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.