Have you been told you have cataracts? If so, you’re in good company as cataracts top the list of the most common eye conditions in the world. This consequently results in cataract surgery topping the list of the most commonly performed surgical procedures, particularly in a country like Australia where we have easy access to high-quality eye care.
If you’re considering a cataract operation, you may be wondering what happens once you walk out of that operating theatre. Here’s what to expect after cataract surgery.
What to Expect After Cataract Surgery: Your Vision
Once you’ve had your cataracts removed, the world is going to look a little different. While you shouldn’t expect your vision to be crystal clear immediately after cataract surgery, you may already feel your vision is improved, particularly if your cataracts were advanced.
You’re also likely to experience other immediate changes to your sight. Because age-related cataracts are often a brownish-yellow colour, they filter out certain wavelengths of the spectrum and can cause colours to appear duller. As cataracts tend to progress very slowly, you may have been unaware of this change in your colour perception. However, once they’ve been removed through cataract surgery, you may find that colours are much brighter and more vibrant.
The removal of your cataracts may cause you some glare sensitivity in the short term, also known as photophobia. Now that the opacity in your lens has been removed with cataract surgery, more light can enter your eye. This glare sensitivity will resolve over the following weeks to months as your eyes readjust. In the meantime, some activities like looking at a bright screen or encountering sunlight reflecting off the road may be uncomfortable. It is not uncommon for cataract surgery to induce some degree of dry eye, which can also contribute to glare sensitivity. If this is the case for you, wear sunglasses in glary or dazzling conditions and speak to your eye surgeon about whether lubricant eye drops may be appropriate for managing your dry eye. Like glare sensitivity, dry eye as a side effect of cataract surgery tends to self-resolve over several months.
It’s important to understand that if you have limited vision as a result of other eye conditions, having cataract surgery won’t restore this vision loss. These include decreased vision from diseases such as retinal detachment, corneal scarring, or age-related macular degeneration. Your eye specialist will have conducted a thorough eye exam prior to performing surgery and so will have likely mentioned this when explaining what to expect after cataract surgery.
Your eye will take some time to heal from the procedure. Though the exact length of time will vary from individual to individual, many people find their vision has stabilised around 4-6 weeks after the operation. During this time, you won’t be able to wear your usual glasses or contact lenses as your prescription will have been altered by the procedure. Once your vision is stable your cataract surgeon will advise you when you can see your optometrist for a prescription update.
What to Expect After Cataract Surgery: Post-Operation Instructions
Your cataract surgeon will provide you with a guide of post-op instructions. It’s important to follow these to optimise your recovery process and minimise your risk of complications, such as a damaging eye infection.
The exact advice may vary depending on your specialist and your specific situation, but in general, most cataract surgeons will recommend:
- Resting and avoiding strenuous activity for a few weeks. This includes lifting or moving heavy objects, participating in sports, and even vigorous housework like mopping.
- Wearing your eye shield. Your surgeon may recommend you keep the shield on for the first 24 hours after your cataract surgery and then only overnight for about a week. This is to physically protect your eye from accidents like eye rubbing during sleep.
- Using your prescription eye drops. You’ll be given a script for two or three bottles of medications, usually an antibiotic and one or two anti-inflammatory drops. It’s important to instil these as instructed and to complete the full course of eye drops even if your eyes feel better.
- Keeping the eye clean. Try to avoid any unsterile water near the eye, including swimming pools, saunas, and at the beach. You can still bathe but you may choose to gently clean your face with a damp washcloth instead of under the shower. Soaps, shampoos, makeup, and any other similar products should be kept away from the eye area.
- Avoiding dirty and dusty environments. It’s best to try and keep any foreign particles from getting lodged in the eye while it’s still healing. This includes taking a break from gardening or even housework that may send up dust into the air.
Although complications after cataract surgery are not common, they can happen. If you experience increased redness or pain in your eye, if your vision is deteriorating rather than improving, or if you see any sudden flashing lines or floating specks or lines, get in contact with your eye specialist immediately.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.