Cataract surgery recovery involves several important steps. In the immediate post-operative period, patients may experience mild discomfort, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light, but these typically subside within a few days. While vision often improves rapidly in the days following surgery, it can continue to evolve over several weeks, with fluctuations in clarity and occasional halos or glare around lights. These variations are usually part of the normal healing process and generally resolve on their own.
Below, we’ll explore the different considerations patients need to keep in mind when recovering from cataract surgery.
How Long Does a Cataract Operation Take to Heal?
The healing process after cataract surgery varies in duration, and it may not be the same for everyone. In general, most patients experience significant improvements in their vision within a few days to a week after the surgery. However, the complete healing process can take several weeks to achieve optimal results.
The timeline for healing can be caused by several factors, including an individual’s overall health. Conditions like diabetes and other systemic health issues can potentially slow down the healing process. Additionally, other factors, like the type of cataract surgery performed and the presence of pre-existing eye conditions, can also impact the healing timeline. Your eye surgeon will be able to discuss your specific circumstances to get a more accurate estimate of recovery time.
A Complete Timeline of Your Cataract Surgery Recovery
Here we’ll review all the steps involved in cataract surgery recovery, including some of the most frequently asked patient questions.
Immediate Post-Operative Care
Immediately after cataract surgery, careful post-operative care is crucial for a smooth recovery. Patients will typically leave the hospital or eye clinic with an eye shield or protective covering over the treated eye, which is worn to prevent accidental rubbing or pressure on the eye. Driving is strictly prohibited on the day of surgery due to the temporary impairment of vision, so arrangements for a reliable, alternate means of transportation should be made in advance. Many patients have a friend or family member take them home after the procedure.
In the first 24 hours post-surgery, patients should follow these precautions and recovery tips:
Rest and Relaxation: It’s essential to rest and avoid strenuous activities, allowing the eye to heal. Activities like reading, watching TV, and using electronic devices should be limited.
Wearing Sunglasses: Protect the eyes from bright light and glare by wearing sunglasses when outdoors, even on overcast days.
Avoid Bending or Strenuous Activity: Bending over at the waist should be avoided to prevent increased pressure in the eye. Lifting heavy objects or engaging in vigorous physical activity should also be postponed.
Eye Drops: Follow the prescribed schedule for applying medicated eye drops, as these are essential for reducing the risk of infection and inflammation. Ensure your hands are clean before instilling drops.
Avoid Touching or Rubbing the Eye: Patients must refrain from touching or rubbing the operated eye, as this can increase the risk of infection and cause other ocular complications.
Protective Eyewear at Night: Continue wearing the eye shield provided at the hospital during sleep to prevent accidental rubbing.
Avoid Swimming and Hot Tubs: For the first few days, it’s advisable to stay away from swimming pools and hot tubs to reduce the risk of infection.
Maintain Hygiene: Keep the eye area clean and dry to prevent infection, but avoid direct water contact with the eye for the first few days.
Follow-up Appointments: Schedule and attend follow-up appointments with your ophthalmologist as advised. These appointments are crucial for monitoring the healing progress.
Wearing sunglasses when outdoors can help cataract surgery recovery
In the Following Weeks After Surgery
The first few weeks of recovery from cataract surgery are typically marked by a gradual improvement in vision and the alleviation of postoperative symptoms. Here’s what patients can expect during this period:
Vision Improvement: In the days following surgery, most patients notice a significant improvement in their vision, as the cloudiness caused by the cataract is gone. However, vision may still be slightly hazy, and it could take some weeks for it to stabilise completely. Some patients may experience fluctuations in vision during this time.
Symptom Relief: Common symptoms like blurred vision, light sensitivity, and mild discomfort generally subside within a few days to a week. Any initial redness and swelling gradually diminish.
Driving: Many patients regain the ability to drive within a few days to a week after surgery, but it’s essential to follow the advice of the eye surgeon. Patients should only drive once they are confident in their vision and have received the green light from their eye doctor.
Prescribed Medications: Patients should continue using prescribed eye drops and medications as instructed by their eye surgeon. These medications help prevent infection, control inflammation, and promote healing.
Follow-up Appointments: Regular follow-up appointments are crucial during this phase to monitor the progress of healing and assess the need for any adjustments in eye medications.
Vision Changes: It’s common for patients to experience minor fluctuations in vision quality during the first few weeks. This can include halos or glare around lights, particularly at night. These issues often resolve as the eye fully heals.
Adjustment Period: Some patients may need a little time to adapt to the new clarity of their vision. Colours may appear more vivid, and the world might seem brighter after the removal of the cataract.
Work and Daily Activities: Most patients can return to their usual daily activities and work within a few days to a week, as long as they feel comfortable doing so. However, jobs or activities that involve heavy lifting, strenuous exertion, or exposure to dust and debris may require additional precautions.
Eye Protection: Continue to protect the eyes from bright sunlight with sunglasses, especially during outdoor activities. Also, be cautious when participating in sports or activities with a risk of eye injury.
Diet and Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can contribute to a smoother recovery. Proper hydration, good nutrition, and regular sleep support the healing process.
Follow-Up Appointments Are Essential
Follow-up appointments after cataract surgery are of paramount importance, as they play a crucial role in ensuring the success of the procedure and monitoring the patient’s recovery. These appointments serve several key purposes:
Assessment of Healing: Follow-up appointments allow the ophthalmologist to closely monitor the healing process. They can check for any signs of infection, inflammation, or other unlikely complications that might arise post-surgery.
Medication Management: Ophthalmologists can adjust or change the post-operative medications as needed. They may gradually reduce the use of eye drops or prescribe additional medications based on the patient’s progress.
Vision Evaluation: Regular eye examinations during follow-up visits help determine the stability of the patient’s visual acuity. Any necessary prescription changes or recommendations for eyeglasses can be made as the eye continues to heal.
Addressing Concerns: Patients may have questions or concerns about their recovery, such as fluctuations in vision, minor discomfort, or the need for additional guidance. Follow-up appointments provide an opportunity to address these concerns and offer reassurance.
Monitoring for Complications: While complications are rare, early detection is essential if they do occur. Conditions like retinal detachment and infection will require immediate attention, and regular follow-up appointments are the best way to catch these issues in their early stages. At Optegra, because we are true cataract surgery specialists, we conduct over 35,000 cataract procedures each year with a reassuring success rate of 99.6%.
The frequency of follow-up appointments can vary, but typically, they are scheduled as follows:
Initial Follow-up: This is often done within 24-48 hours after surgery to check the immediate post-operative condition, address any concerns, and ensure that the eye is healing well.
One-Week Follow-up: The first one-week follow-up appointment is crucial for assessing the progress of recovery, adjusting medications, and evaluating vision improvements, you are usually discharged by the ophthalmologist at this stage and advised to attend your 4-6 week check up at your local optometrist.
One-Month Follow-up: This appointment is usually done at your local opticians and is when you are advised to get a new pair of spectacles if required. You should not buy any spectacles before this appointment.
Additional Appointments: Depending on the individual’s progress and any specific concerns, further follow-up appointments may be scheduled three months or six months post-surgery.
Attending all follow up appointments are important after your cataract surgery
A Few Months After Surgery
In the months following cataract surgery, patients can typically expect their vision to gradually improve and return to a level of clarity and quality that can be considered normal. The extent and speed of this improvement can vary among individuals and may depend on factors such as the type of intraocular lens implanted during surgery and the presence of any pre-existing eye conditions.
Reduced Dependency on Glasses: Many patients notice a significant reduction in their need for glasses following cataract surgery. This is especially true for distance vision. Patients who had significant near-sightedness (myopia) before the surgery may still require reading glasses or bifocals to improve near vision, as the standard intraocular lenses typically correct for distance vision. At Optegra, we offer various advanced cataract surgery options to help patients achieve reduced dependency on glasses. Learn more about the differences between monofocal and multifocal lenses.
Improved Clarity: Colours may appear more vibrant, and overall visual clarity can improve as the eye heals and adapts to the new intraocular lens. Contrast sensitivity and night vision may also improve.
Visual Stability: Vision can continue to improve and stabilise over several months, with fluctuations gradually diminishing. The healing process may be more extended in some cases, so it’s not uncommon for vision to keep improving even up to six months after surgery.
What about obtaining a new prescription for glasses? It is essential for patients to understand that the timing of this may vary. Ophthalmologists typically recommend waiting until vision has stabilised, which could take a few weeks, depending on individual healing factors.
Is Recovery from Cataract Surgery Painful?
Recovery after cataract surgery . The procedure itself is performed under local anaesthesia, and the procedure is described as painless. Some pressure or light sensations might be felt, but these are generally not painful.
Post-surgery, it’s common to experience mild discomfort , but this is usually transient and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, if necessary. Most patients describe the discomfort as gritty, and it tends to improve within a day or two. Your surgeon will typically prescribe medicated eye drops to reduce the risk of infection and control inflammation, and following the prescribed post-operative regimen can help minimise discomfort and speed up the healing process.
Using Your Eye Drops Post-Cataract Surgery
You will be given eye drops by your surgeon, and it is extremely important that you use them as instructed. As part of your follow-up, your doctor will tell you when and how to use your eye drops:
- Wash your hands vigorously before you put the drops in.
- Only apply your eye drops to the eye that was operated on.
- Begin using the eye drops the morning after your procedure.
- Continue to use the eye drops as instructed by your surgeon.
- Ensure to keep the eye drops out of the reach of children, and do not let anyone else use them.
How Long After Cataract Surgery Can You Bend Over?
After cataract surgery, it’s generally advisable to avoid bending over or engaging in activities that involve straining or putting your head in a downward position for at least the first few days. This precaution is to minimise the risk of increased intraocular pressure, which can potentially lead to complications or discomfort during the initial healing period.
In the immediate post-operative period, the wound created during the surgery is healing, and there is a need to ensure that the eye remains stable and pressure within the eye is controlled. Bending over could increase intraocular pressure and potentially cause discomfort.
How Long Should You Wait to Do Housework After Cataract Surgery?
To ensure a smooth recovery after cataract surgery, in terms of household chores, it’s generally advisable to wait for at least the first few days to a week before resuming many routine activities. Here are some guidelines:
Immediate Post-Surgery Period (First Few Days): During the immediate post-operative period, it’s crucial to rest and avoid any activities that involve bending that could strain the eyes or increase intraocular pressure. Household chores like cleaning, and yard work should be avoided.
Light Chores and Activities (First Week): In the first week after cataract surgery, you can gradually start to resume some light household activities, but it’s important to be cautious.
Avoid Dust and Allergens: Dust and allergens can irritate the eyes and potentially lead to complications. It’s advisable to keep your living space clean and well-ventilated to minimise exposure to dust and allergens.
Heavy Chores and Strenuous Activities (2-4 Weeks): For the first two to four weeks after cataract surgery, you should continue to avoid heavy chores and strenuous activities like heavy lifting, gardening, or anything that involves straining or bending over. These activities can increase intraocular pressure and increase the risk of complications.
How Long Should You Wait Before Cooking After Cataract Surgery?
If you’re feeling OK, then you can do everyday activities, like cooking, when you get home after your surgery. Avoid any heavy lifting or bending while cooking and avoid getting steam or smoke in the eye or touching the eye with dirty hands or utensils.
It’s important to follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions and to be mindful of the healing process of your eye. This will help you achieve optimal healing and prevent complications.
What is the Best Sleeping Position After Cataract Surgery?
Getting sleep to aid recovery from your cataract surgery is essential. You will be provided with a protective shield to wear for seven nights to help prevent infection and stop you from accidentally rubbing your eyes.
To avoid the shield being dislodged while you sleep, you can sleep on your back or on the opposite side of the eye you had your cataract surgery on.
What is the Cataract Surgery Recovery Time Before Returning to Work?
The post-surgery cataract recovery time before returning to work can vary depending on several factors, including the type of job and the individual’s overall health and rate of healing. Here are some general guidelines:
Sedentary Jobs: Individuals with sedentary jobs that primarily involve desk work, administrative tasks, or computer-based work may often return to work within a few days to a week after cataract surgery. Once any immediate post-operative discomfort or sensitivity has subsided, many people can comfortably engage in these types of jobs. Ensure you use any lubricating drops as required.
Moderate Physical Jobs: Jobs that require moderate physical activity, such as light manufacturing or service industry positions, might allow for a return to work within a week or so. It’s important to be cautious about heavy lifting or strenuous physical activity during this initial recovery period.
Strenuous or Physically Demanding Jobs: For physically demanding jobs, such as construction, heavy labour, or jobs with a high risk of eye injury, a more extended recovery period may be necessary. Returning to work in such cases may take two to four weeks or longer, depending on the individual’s rate of healing and the specific job requirements.
Jobs Requiring Good Depth Perception: Occupations that necessitate excellent depth perception, like pilots, professional athletes, or heavy machinery operators, may require additional time for a complete recovery. It’s essential to discuss with the eye surgeon and employer the best time for returning to such jobs.
Night Shift or Low-Light Jobs: Individuals with jobs that involve night shifts or work in low-light conditions should consider how their vision adjusts to varying light levels. It may be advisable to wait until any halos or glare issues are resolved to ensure optimal vision for night-time work.
Can You Fly After Cataract Surgery?
It is generally safe to fly after cataract surgery, but it’s important to follow the post-operative instructions provided by your surgeon.
Most people can fly within a week after cataract surgery, but it’s important to wait until you have fully recovered and your vision has improved enough to safely travel. We would recommend you wait, if you can, until after your first postoperative appointment.
We recommend carrying a copy of your medical information, including the surgery date, type of surgery, medications, and your surgeon’s contact information, in case of an emergency.
Expert Advice on Showering and Washing Your Hair After Surgery
After cataract surgery, you should wait at least 24 hours before you can bathe and shower. After this, you can shower and bathe as normal. When bathing and showering, it is important that your eyes are closed, that you do not rub your eyes, and that you are very careful not to get any shampoo or soap into your eyes.
Your surgeon may also provide specific instructions on how to clean the eye, as well as when it’s safe to take a shower and what precautions should be taken to protect the eye.
It’s also important to follow post-operative instructions and to be mindful of the healing process of your eye.
Steps to Ensure a Good Recovery from Cataract Surgery
To summarise, following the quickfire tips below will ensure a smooth and fast recovery from cataract surgery:
- Avoid rubbing or putting pressure on the eye.
- Use prescribed eye drops or medication as directed.
- Wear an eye shield as directed.
- Avoid strenuous activity or heavy lifting for the first week after surgery.
- Protect the eye from bright sunlight and dust or debris.
- Attend all follow-up appointments with your consultant.
- Be careful when bending or exercising and wait for the prescribed amount of time after surgery.
- Arrange for someone to drive you home immediately after your surgery.
- Only return to work when your eyes are fit enough to facilitate the type of job you perform.
- Be careful not to expose your eyes to any dust or fumes (e.g., while cooking or doing housework).
What next? Get in touch for free, no-obligation advice.
If you’re suffering from cataracts, why not contact us to see if we can help? Our friendly and experienced patient services team is waiting to offer advice on how we can provide treatment quickly and comfortably. Or learn more about cataract surgery with Optegra.
By Author: Amir Hamid
Mr. Amir Hamid is a Clinical Lead for Vision Correction and an expert refractive surgeon, based in London.
Medically Reviewed Date: 26th October 2023