The thought of cataract surgery can be a daunting one as many people have a fear of operations or procedures to the eyes. Even if you’re not one to be squeamish, you may be wondering about the process of cataract surgery recovery, such as the expected recovery time and what post-operative instructions you may be required to follow.
Cataracts and Cataract Surgery in a Nutshell
Cataract surgery is a very common procedure in the Western world, particularly because cataracts are so common themselves as a natural part of ageing. A cataract is any sort of opacity of the lens inside the eye; typically, this lens is clear and transparent to allow the transmission of light to make vision possible. Any haze or clouding of this lens hinders the passage of light, resulting in hazy or cloudy vision. In the early stages, as a cataract grows, it may simply cause a change to your spectacle prescription, which can easily be addressed by simply updating your glasses. However, eventually, the cataract progresses to a stage where your vision can no longer be improved to your satisfaction with an update in prescription – it’s at this point your eye care professional may recommend you consider cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery in Australia is associated with very high success rates, often quoted to be around 98%, and uneventful cataract surgery recovery. During the operation, you will have the eye area numbed with a local anaesthetic. A small incision is created in the front surface of the eye, called the cornea, to allow the surgeon to access the cataract behind the coloured iris.
The cataract is then broken into smaller fragments and then removed from the eye using a suction device. The membrane in which the cataract used to sit is retained in order to hold the artificial lens implant that will replace the cataract, known as an intraocular lens. The corneal incision is usually allowed to self-seal without the need for stitches.
Even before going into the operating theatre, your eye specialist is likely to discuss with you about what to expect from the surgery, including the steps to optimise your cataract surgery recovery. However, it’s important to understand that everyone’s bodies and healing responses are different and your total recovery time may be slightly shorter or longer, dependent even on factors such as your vocation and favourite hobbies.
Cataract Surgery Recovery Tips
Cataract surgery is a day procedure and most people expect to return home the same day though will be advised against driving immediately after the operation and potentially for the following several days until their postoperative vision can be assessed. It’s quite normal for vision to feel slightly blurry immediately after surgery and for your eye to be a bit red and sore for the next few days. Your vision will continue to improve and stabilise over the following 4-6 weeks of recovery time but within a few days of the operation, many people often notice their vision is already much better than when they had the cataract.
After having cataract surgery, it’s important to follow all post-op instructions from your ophthalmologist in order to maximise your likelihood of a smooth cataract surgery recovery period. Different ophthalmologists may have slightly different post-op instructions, but most will include similar guidelines such as:
Protect the eye: You will be given a protective plastic shield to tape over the operated eye. Your eye specialist may recommend you keep this on for a couple of days, or may say that it’s okay to remove after a few hours but should be worn to sleep to prevent you from accidentally rubbing the eye. Protecting the eye as it heals also involves avoiding any foreign particles that may contaminate the wound. This includes dust, dirt, makeup, and even soap, shampoos, and unsterile water such as swimming pools and spas.
Avoid strenuous activity: This is typically recommended after any surgical procedure and eye surgery is no different. For a few weeks post-op your ophthalmologist will advise you to stay away from vigorous exercise or heavy lifting. It is also recommended to try and avoid any other activity that may increase the pressure around the eye immediately after surgery, such as bending over or vomiting.
Use your prescribed eye drops: Your ophthalmologist will provide you with a prescription for a few topical medications. These will include an anti-inflammatory eye drop, typically a steroid, and an antibiotic eye drop to prevent any infections. It’s important to follow the dosing regime as prescribed even if you think your eye is feeling okay as not doing so could prolong your recovery time unnecessarily in the event of unexpected inflammation or infection.
Seek medical attention if your eye doesn’t seem right: A deterioration in the clarity of your vision or progressively increasing pain, redness, or discharge after surgery is not normal and should be brought to the attention of your eye surgeon immediately. Most ophthalmologists will have already organised a review exam roughly a day after your operation, a week later, and a month after that, but if at any time in between you think something is not right with your eyes you should have it promptly attended to. Remember, your care with your eye specialist doesn’t stop once you leave the operating theatre.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.