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Cataract Eye Drops: Types, Uses, Pre-Surgery, Post-Surgery & More

Cataract eye drops can refer to several different kinds of drops that have legitimate use in cataract treatment. 

man using cataract eye drops

Dilation and numbing drops commonly get prescribed in the days leading up to surgery. Antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops can help in the recovery process, reducing the risk of complications. Artificial tears can help if a patient experiences eye dryness. 

With this said, no drops exist that can “dissolve” cataracts.

Eye Drops for Cataract Treatment

Eye drops work as an often vital part of modern cataract treatments. 

Eye surgery can expose elements of the eye to bacteria and other dangers. Medicinal eye drops can help keep the eye free of bacteria through antibiotics and reduce any potential swelling through anti-inflammatories. This helps the eye heal cleanly and produces the best possible result for the patient.

Eye surgery also has the potential to cause eye dryness. Usually, this is a temporary symptom, but it can sometimes develop as a chronic side effect of surgery. 

In either case, a doctor may prescribe the use of eye drops to help with dryness and irritation. 

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Eye Drops Before Cataract Surgery

Not all doctors prescribe eye drops before cataract surgery, although most do. If your doctor doesn’t prescribe any eye drops before surgery, you can ask if they might benefit you. 

Listen to your doctor’s recommendations and don’t put anything into your eyes without first getting their approval. Those treating you must know exactly what chemicals you use on or near your eyes, as they can affect your risk of complications.  

Most patients get prescribed dilating and numbing drops that they will take a few days before their surgery. This helps make the surgeon’s work easier while also keeping you comfortable during the procedure.

Dilating eye drops can make your eyes very sensitive to light. For this reason, your doctor may tell you to wear special glasses while using them. 

Your eye normally adjusts to light through dilation, absorbing enough to see but not cause pain. These drops dilate your eye more than normal and override the normal mechanism, meaning your eye can no longer adjust properly while you use the drops. 

Post-Op Drops for Cataract Surgery

After your cataract surgery, you need to take antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops. While the specifics may vary, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recommends the following:

  • Chloramphenicol, one drop a day for two weeks
  • Dexamethasone, four drops a day for four weeks

Both medications have the potential for side effects and adverse reactions. Common side effects of chloramphenicol include the following:

  • Mild stinging
  • Mild burning
  • Itchiness
  • Irritation

These are potential side effects of dexamethasone:

  • Sleep problems
  • Mood changes
  • Indigestion
  • Possible weight gain

If prescribed different medications, be sure to read any provided instructions and ask about potential side effects. Potential side effects are likely similar, as the intended effect will also be similar, but you may note key differences. 

Regardless of the medication used, don’t ignore any serious side effects. If you experience serious pain or vision problems from your drops, or any other alarming effect, contact a doctor immediately.

Chloramphenicol should be stored in the fridge, as it can spoil at room temperature. As with all prescribed treatments, read all provided instructions carefully.

Can Eye Drops Work as a Cataract Surgery Alternative?

Early research suggested lanosterol drops might help with age-related cataracts. Unfortunately, later studies could not replicate these results in humans. 

While medical science is always advancing, we don’t fully understand the human eye or cataracts. At present, a successful nonsurgical treatment for cataracts is not in the foreseeable future.

Many companies claim N-acetylcarnosine (NAC) drops (also called carnosine drops) can dissolve cataracts. Some blogs and news outlets even run stories supporting these claims. Unfortunately, evidence again does not back up these claims. 

Studies cannot repeat the results made in these claims in a controlled environment. The evidence that exists traces back to organizations that have a heavy financial interest in the eye drops working.

Cataract Eye Drops FAQs

Which eye drops or medicines work best for cataracts?

A doctor will likely prescribe multiple kinds of eye drops for a patient undergoing cataract surgery. Two that most doctors prescribe are antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drops. These drops help to ensure the eyes heal properly, and they reduce the risk of complications.

Some patients may also benefit from artificial tears or “wetting drops” if they suffer from dryness after surgery. While their use is legitimate, some doctors don’t prescribe dilation drops. 

At least some evidence suggests lidocaine is a possible alternative to postoperative drops. If you have an interest in this approach, ask your doctor.

Can eye drops dissolve cataracts?

Despite some claims to the contrary, reliable medical literature does not confirm that any known eye drop solution can dissolve cataracts. Cataracts literally cannot dissolve. Removing cataracts requires surgery, and this is likely to continue indefinitely without a major medical breakthrough in the near term.

The FDA appears to agree, approving no over-the-counter or prescription drops to dissolve cataracts. While some companies sell drops ‌they claim can dissolve cataracts, you should not purchase these products, and they will not work as advertised.


  1. Antibiotics at the Time of Cataract Surgery to Prevent Bacterial Infection of the Eye. (February 2017). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

  2. Advice After Cataract Surgery. (July 2018). Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

  3. Cataract Surgery Without Preoperative Eyedrops. (December 2003). Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery.

  4. Dexamethasone Tablets and Liquid. (August 2020). UK NHS.

  5. Dilating Eye Drops. (April 2020). American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

  6. Effect of Lanosterol on Human Cataract Nucleus. (December 2015). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

  7. Eye Drops. (July 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  8. Cataracts. (February 2017). The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

  9. Side Effects of Chloramphenicol. (February 2022). UK NHS.

Last Updated April 12, 2022

Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.

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