What You Need to Know About Cataract Surgery

Staff WriterLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:33:38 AM ET
Closeup of human eye CC0/TobiasD/Pixabay

When you develop a cataract, the lens of your eye becomes cloudy. While you may not notice it initially, it can eventually impact your vision. When it reaches this point, your eye doctor may suggest having cataract surgery. While any kind of surgery is serious business, cataract surgery is not too risky and has a very high success rate. It’s also an outpatient surgery, so, most of the time, no hospital stay is necessary. Here is everything else you need to know about cataract surgery.

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What Is Cataract Surgery?

Cataract surgery is when your doctor removes the clouded lens over the eye and replaces it with a clear one, usually made from silicon, plastic or acrylic. This usually only takes about an hour or less. The surgeon makes a small incision in the eye and then uses a laser or ultrasound technology to remove the clouded lens. The job of the eye lens is to refract light as it hits your eye, allowing you to see clearly. Cataracts that affect your vision have been compared to looking at the world through a dusty window or heavy fog. If you happen to have cataracts in both eyes, you’ll probably need to schedule two different surgeries on two different days so each eye has time to heal properly on its own.

Do I Need Cataract Surgery?

Not everyone with cataracts requires surgery right away or at all. Most doctors recommend you have the surgery if your cataracts impact your ability to live your everyday life. If you have other eye conditions that require your ophthalmologist to examine the back of your eye on a regular basis, he or she may also suggest you have the surgery to make examinations easier. People who opt to have the surgery usually find they have a hard time seeing in bright light and that their inability to see properly prevents them from working, driving, cooking, cleaning, shopping, reading, and performing other daily activities required to live independently.

What Are the Risks of Cataract Surgery?

Your doctor will explain cataract surgery and its risks before you have the procedure, but most people find they don’t have any issues with the procedure. If complications do arise, a doctor can typically treat them. Some of the less serious complications include inflammation of the eye, infection, swelling or bleeding. Occasionally, more serious problems may occur, such as a drooping eyelid, lost of vision, pressure buildup in the eye, dislocation of the lens, a detached retina, glaucoma or more cataracts. People who are in otherwise good health and don’t have other eye conditions in the beginning are less likely to experience side effects after having cataract surgery.

What Preparation Is Involved Before Cataract Surgery?

Your doctor will make sure you are prepared for surgery by providing you with tests in his or her office and instructions for when you go home. He or she will measure your eye to make sure the medical staff finds the best lens for your surgery. Your doctor may also request that you not eat or drink anything up to 12 hours before the schedule procedure time. You may also have to stop taking certain medications before the surgery. Follow your doctor’s instructions for the best results. Before the surgery occurs, your doctor will numb your eye, and you may receive some medication to help you relax, since you’ll be awake the entire time.

What Is Recovery Like After Cataract Surgery?

After the surgery, you may need to wait in the recovery room for about half an hour. After that, you’re ready to go home. The doctor or a nurse will place a shield over your eye to protect it, and you’ll need a ride home from the hospital or surgery center. Cataract surgery healing time varies by person, but you should start to see some improvements in your vision within a few days. During the first few days, you may need to continue wearing the shield, and you may experience some itching, mild pain or discomfort. Avoid rubbing or scratching your eye. You may also need to apply eye drops or take medication to prevent inflammation and infection. After a week or two, your doctor will request that you follow up with him or her in the office. If at any point after the surgery you experience serious pain, loss of vision, floaters or extreme redness of the eye, call your doctor or go to your local emergency room.