A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye that can make it hard to see clearly. Surgery is the only way to get rid of cataracts.
Who needs cataract surgery?
Your doctor will probably suggest cataract surgery if you have vision loss that gets in the way of everyday activities like reading, driving, or watching TV.
Sometimes, your doctor might recommend cataract surgery even if your cataracts aren’t the main cause of your vision problems. For example, cataracts might need to be removed so that your doctor can see the back of your eye. If you have another eye condition, like diabetic retinopathy or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), your doctor will need to see the back of your eye to help you manage it.
Cataracts are not a medical emergency, and you don’t need to rush to have surgery to remove them. Ask your doctor about the risks and benefits of cataract surgery to decide if it’s is right for you.
Download Visual Function Questionnaire to bring to your visit
How do I prepare for cataract surgery?
- At pre-operative office visit, your doctor will do some tests to measure the size and shape of your eye. These measurements are necessary to determine the proper power of the Intraocular Lens Implant (IOL). Your doctor will discuss your goals and discuss your IOL options.
- You will need to see your Primary Medical Doctor for medical clearance a few weeks before surgery.
- You will begin using some special eye drops three days before surgery.
- You cannot eat of drink anything after midnight the night before surgery.
- You won’t be able to drive yourself home after the surgery, and you’ll need a friend or family member to make sure you get home safely — so be sure to bring someone with you.
What happens during cataract surgery?
During surgery, the doctor will remove the cloudy lens from your eye and replace it with an artificial lens (called an intraocular lens or IOL). The surgery lasts about 20 minutes and is almost painless. Usually, you will be awake during cataract surgery. You might notice lights or motion, but you won’t be able to see what your doctor is doing.
When you get this surgery, your doctor will:
- Put numbing drops into your eye to keep you from feeling anything
- Use tiny tools to cut into your eye, break up the cataract, and take it out
- Place the new artificial lens in your eye
- You will need to rest in a recovery area outside the operating room for a little while
- Before you go home, the medical team will check to make sure you don’t have any problems with your eye
What happens after cataract surgery?
The doctor will explain how to protect your eye after cataract surgery
- You will go home with a patch and shield over the eye. This will be removed in the office the next day
- You will use eye drops to help your eye heal
- You may need to avoid some activities for about a week, like touching your eye, bending over, or lifting heavy things
- Your eye may feel a bit itchy or uncomfortable and sensitive to light and touch. After 1 or 2 days, your eye should feel better
Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these problems after surgery:
- Vision loss
- Bad pain that won’t go away even if you take medicine for it
- Very red eyes
- Flashes of light or a lot of floaters (specks) in your vision
Most people are completely healed 4 weeks after their surgery. Your doctor will schedule checkups to make sure your eye is healing correctly.
Will my vision be normal after cataract surgery?
About 9 out of 10 people who get cataract surgery see better afterward, but your vision might be blurry at first while your eye recovers.
Some people notice that colors seem brighter after cataract surgery. This is because the artificial lens is clear, while your natural lens had a yellow or brown tint from the cataract.
Once your eye is completely healed, you might need a new prescription for glasses or contact lenses to see clearly.
More Information About Determining IOL Power
While the method used to calculate the power of the IOL is very accurate in most patients, the final result may be different from what you and your surgeon planned. As the eye heals, the IOL can shift very slightly toward the front or the back of the eye. The amount of this shift is not the same in everyone, and it may cause different vision than predicted. If the eye’s visual power after surgery is considerably different than what was planned, surgical replacement of the IOL might be considered. Patients who are highly nearsighted or highly farsighted have the greatest risk of differences between planned and actual outcomes. Patients who have had LASIK or other refractive surgeries are especially difficult to measure precisely.
What are the risks of cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery is one of the most common, safe, and effective types of surgery done in the United States. But like any surgery, there are risks, including:
- Swelling, bleeding, or infections
- Vision loss or double vision
- Unusual changes in eye pressure
- Retinal detachment
- Secondary cataract (posterior capsule opacity)
- Your doctor can treat these problems if they are caught early.
- Be sure to go to all of your checkups, and call your doctor if you notice anything wrong with your eyes or your vision.
What is secondary cataract?
After cataract surgery, some people may develop a condition called secondary cataract that makes their vision cloudy again. This condition is also called after-cataract or posterior capsule opacification. Secondary cataract is common, but it’s easy to fix with in-office laser treatment.
During cataract surgery, your doctor removes the lens from your eye and replaces it with a clear artificial lens. But over time, the thin membrane that holds your new lens in place can grow scar tissue and make your vision cloudy again.
Secondary cataracts aren’t actually cataracts, because they’re caused by cloudiness on the outside of your lens, not the inside — but the vision problems they cause are very similar. Up to half of all people who have had cataract surgery will develop a secondary cataract.
Treatment for secondary cataract is quick and painless. Your doctor will use a laser to make an opening in the membrane behind the artificial lens in your eye — this is called YAG Laser Capsulotomy. Most people will notice their vision is back to normal a few days after the procedure.