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Recovering from cataract surgery: what you need to know

Cataracts affects 95 million people across the world. After cataract surgery, it’s important to be aware of what to do – and not do – during your recovery. After cataract surgery, it’s important to be aware of what to do – and not do – during your recovery.

Our Consultant ophthalmologist, David Trew from BMI Chelsfield Park Hospital and BMI The Sloane Hospital shares his advice on how to make a safe and speedy recovery; from common side effects to getting back on the road and the things to avoid after surgery.

Immediately after your cataract surgery 

Following your operation, you will usually be given an eye pad and plastic shield to cover the eye. This will ensure you don’t accidentally touch or rub your eye in your sleep. It’s often advised to keep the pad on until the following day.

Be careful during this time as it can make it difficult to judge distance – especially when walking up and down stairs, and handling hot food and drink.

If you only had anaesthetic drops for the operation then your recovery time should be much shorter.

After surgery, most people can...

  • Bathe, shower and wash their face and hair as usual
  • Read
  • Watch television

But here's what you need to avoid...

  • Strenuous activities, such as lifting heavy objects
  • Touching, rubbing or knocking your eye
  • Wearing eye makeup for at least a week
  • Swimming (for two to four weeks)
  • Sports where your eye could be hurt (for two to four weeks)1

Side effects you can feel

There are number of sensations that patients experience in the first two or three days after their operation. It’s very common to feel tired and it’s sensible to try to relax and take it easy at home.

It’s also very common to feel that the eye is gritty or itchy and sticky. You should try not to rub the eye as this may make it sorer.

The eye may also be watery, however the drops you’ll have been given to use after the operation will help to calm these symptoms.

There may also be a mild ache in or around the eye (including a headache). This may be worse if the light is very bright but should easily be relieved with mild painkillers and the use of your drops. Wearing sunglasses often helps to relieve these symptoms.

Here's a list of common side effects you may experience

  • Mild pain in or around your eye
  • A feeling of itchiness, stickiness or grittiness in your eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Discomfort if you look at a bright light
  • Bruised skin around your eye

Side effects you can see

When the eye pad is first removed, there is often blurry vision and this can remain for a few days. However many patients notice an immediate improvement in their vision. You may notice that the eye is red and bloodshot; sometimes the eyelids are also mildly bruised. Your drops should help to calm this down very quickly.

Patients commonly notice that everything is very bright and that colours are very vivid. This is because the cataract has been replaced by a clear lens (a bit like having dirty windows cleaned!).

Cataract surgery also has some mild side effects which are totally normal and should subside within a few days.

Things you should and shouldn't do

  • Do use the drops that will have been given to use after the operation and keep using them until you are told that they can be stopped.
  • Do read and watch television normally. You may need to try old glasses to help with this until a visit to the optician, usually about six weeks after your operation.
  • Don't rub the eye or swim until your doctor says that it is safe to do so.
  • Don't play sports where you could get knocked in the eye until advised by your doctor that it is safe.

Getting back to everyday life

Most patients recover very quickly after surgery and notice an improvement in their vision, often soon after they have removed the eye pad. The risk of complications is very small – around 1 in 1000. However, it can take between 4-6 weeks to make a full recovery.

Your surgeon and nurses will give you a helpful list of instructions to assist with your recovery after the operation.

Driving after cataract surgery

If you have cataracts in both eyes, or a cataract in one eye and another condition affecting the other eye, you need to tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority). 

If you have a cataract in one eye but the other eye is fine, you don’t need to tell the DVLA. However, you will need to have your eyesight checked after surgery to make sure you’re ready to get back out onto the road4.

When will you be fit to drive again?

  • You can return to driving as soon as you can read a number plate 20 metres away with both eyes open4
  • You should be free from the distracting effect of pain
  • You should be free from sedatives or other pain relief medication that could be distracting
  • You should feel comfortable in the drivers position
  • You should be able to perform an emergency stop

Around 90% of people who have cataract operations will find that they can return to driving at some point, as long as they don’t have any other conditions which affect their vision4.

It’s important to remember that everyone recovers differently. Some people are back on the road the day after their operation, while some people need up to four weeks to get their vision back fully.