Cataract Surgery

A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, causing vision loss that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or corneal refractive surgery like LASIK.

As frightening as cataracts might sound, modern cataract surgery usually can restore vision lost to cataracts — and often can reduce your dependence on eyeglasses as well.

Most cataracts are associated with the aging process and are common among older people. In cataract surgery, the lens inside your eye that has become cloudy is removed and replaced with an artificial lens (called an intraocular lens, or IOL) to restore clear vision.

The procedure typically is performed on an outpatient basis and does not require an overnight stay in a hospital or other care facility.

Most modern cataract procedures involve the use of a high-frequency ultrasound device that breaks up the cloudy lens into small pieces, which are then gently removed from the eye with suction.

This procedure, called phacoemulsification or “phaco,” can be performed with smaller incisions than previous surgical techniques for cataract removal, promoting faster healing and reducing the risk of cataract surgery complications, such as a retinal detachment.

After all remnants of the cloudy lens have been removed from your eye, the cataract surgeon inserts a clear intraocular lens, positioning it securely behind the iris and pupil, in the same location your natural lens occupied. (In special cases, an IOL might be placed in front of the iris and pupil, but this is less common.)

The surgeon then completes the cataract removal and IOL implantation procedure by closing the incision in your eye (a stitch may or may not be needed), and a protective shield is placed over the eye to keep it safe in the early stages of your cataract surgery recovery.

Cataract Surgery Recovery

An uncomplicated cataract surgery typically lasts only about 15 minutes. But expect to be at the surgical center for 90 minutes or longer, because extra time is needed to prepare you for surgery (dilating your pupil; administering preoperative medication) and for a brief post-operative evaluation and instructions about your cataract surgery recovery before you leave.

You must have someone drive you home after cataract surgery; do not attempt to drive until you have visited your eye doctor the day after surgery and he or she tests your vision and confirms that you are safe to drive.

You will be prescribed medicated eye drops to use several times each day for a few weeks after cataract surgery. You also must wear your protective eye shield while sleeping or napping for about a week after surgery. To protect your eyes from sunlight and other bright light as your eye recovers, you will be given a special pair of post-operative sunglasses.

Also, many centers require someone to be with you after cataract surgery if you received anesthesia. Be sure to ask about this requirement prior to your cataract procedure so you are prepared for surgery day.

While your eye heals, you might experience some eye redness and blurred vision during the first few days or even weeks following the procedure.

During at least the first week of your recovery, it is essential that you avoid:

  • Strenuous activity and heavy lifting (nothing over 25 pounds).
  • Bending, exercising and similar activities that might stress your eye while it is healing.
  • Water that might splash into your eye and cause infection. Keep your eye closed while showering or bathing. Also, avoid swimming or hot tubs for at least two weeks.
  • Any activity that would expose your healing eye to dust, grime or other infection-causing contaminants.

Your cataract surgeon may give you other instructions and recommendations for your cataract surgery recovery, depending on your specific needs and the outcome of your procedure. If you have any questions at any time after cataract surgery, call your eye doctor for advice.

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