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Cataract Surgery

What is a cataract?

When light passes into your eye, it goes through the lens. This is a clear structure that focuses light on the inner lining of the back of your eye, allowing you to see. Sometimes the lens becomes cloudy. This reduces your vision. This is called a cataract, and it’s most common in older adults. The most common cause of cataracts is age. But other causes include injuries, some medicines, and certain types of radiation.

Why might I need cataract surgery?

Eye care providers will remove a cataract if it keeps you from doing daily activities such as reading, watching TV, or driving. During the procedure, the surgeon takes out the cloudy lens and replaces it with a clear artificial lens. Home treatments can help manage symptoms in the early stages. These include prescription eyeglasses or contacts, antiglare sunglasses, magnifying glasses, and using brighter lights in your home. As a result, many people don’t have to have cataracts removed right away.

What are the risks of cataract surgery?

All procedures have risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • Bleeding

  • Infection

  • The tissue lining the inside of the eye, the retina, comes loose (retinal detachment)

  • Swelling of the retina

  • Vision that’s not as sharp as you would like, or vision loss

  • Damage to other parts of the eye

  • The lens implant may become dislocated, moving out of correct position

Sometimes the surgeon is not able to remove the entire lens at once and there are retained fragments. These fragments may dissolve on their own. Or they may need to be removed in a second procedure.

There may be other risks, depending on your specific health condition. Talk about any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.

How do I get ready for cataract surgery?

Before surgery, the eye care provider will do tests to examine your eye and measure it to pick the right kind of lens.

Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before surgery. You may be prescribed eye drops before surgery. These are to prevent infection and inflammation. Ask your provider if you also need to stop taking any of your normal medicines. You will need to arrange for a family member or a friend to drive you home afterward.

On the day of the procedure, the eye care provider will place drops in your eye. These are to widen (dilate) the black circle in your eye (the pupil). The area around your eye will be cleaned. You will also get medicine to numb your eye so that you won’t feel the surgery. You might be given a sedative to help you relax. Most people are awake and relaxed during the procedure.

What happens during cataract surgery?

The surgery itself often takes less than 30 minutes. The surgeon will make a tiny cut (incision) in the cornea. The cornea is the clear covering on the front of your eye.

The surgeon breaks the cloudy lens into pieces with a device that makes sound waves. The pieces are suctioned out through the small cut. In most cases, the surgeon inserts a new lens through the same incision. You may need stitches. The incision and cataract removal may be done with a laser.

If your cataract can’t be broken up by the sound waves, a larger incision can be made to remove it in one piece.

You likely won’t feel pain during the surgery, but you may notice pressure or a pulling sensation.

What happens after cataract surgery?

The surgeon may place a patch over your eye. You will be watched as you rest in a recovery area before being discharged home. You may need to use special eye drops for a few days to weeks to help prevent infection and reduce inflammation. Ask your surgeon how long you should stay away from certain activities, such as leaning down or lifting heavy objects.

Don't rub your eye after your surgery. While you’re healing, try not to sleep on the treated eye. You may be prescribed a protective eye shield for when you sleep. Don't get soap or shampoo in your eye. Wear sunglasses when you’re in bright light. Follow all other instructions you’re given.

Call your eye care provider or get medical care right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Vision that gets worse

  • Fever, chills, or any other sign of infection

  • Redness, swelling, discharge, pain, or bleeding from the treated eye

Your eye should heal fully within 10 weeks. Keep any follow-up appointments so that your eye care provider can make sure you’re healing correctly.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Whitney Seltman MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.