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Cataract Surgery

What is cataract surgery?

When light passes into your eye, it goes through the lens. This is a clear structure that focuses light on the lining inside the 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. Besides age, other causes include injuries, certain medicines, and some kinds 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 damaged lens and replaces it with an artificial one. Some other treatments can help manage symptoms right after a cataract develops. These include eyeglasses and using brighter lights in your home. As a result, most 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 healthcare provider can't remove the entire lens at once. The rest of it may need to be removed during 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 a cataract surgery?

Before surgery, the eye care provider will do tests to check 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 also be given a sedative to help you relax. Most people stay awake during the procedure.

What happens during cataract surgery?

The surgery itself often takes less than 30 minutes. The eye care provider will look at your eye using a special microscope. Then he or she will make a tiny cut (incision) in the cornea, the clear covering on the front of your eyeball.

The provider 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 healthcare provider 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 much pain during the surgery. But you may notice pressure or a pulling feeling.

What happens after cataract surgery?

The eye care provider may place a patch over your eye. They may have you rest before you leave. You may need to use special eye drops for a few days to help prevent infection. And you may need to wear a special shield to protect your eye. Ask your eye care provider how long you should not do certain activities, such as leaning down or lifting heavy objects.

Don't rub your eye after your surgery. While you’re healing, try to not sleep on the treated eye. You will likely be prescribed a protective eye shield 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 healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Vision 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 the 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 will you get the results

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

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2000-2021 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.
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