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Recovery From Cataract Surgery: Timeline & Tips for Healing

Recovery from cataract surgery generally takes one to two months.

man smiling after cataract surgery

Cataract surgery is very common, so if you are at risk of cataracts or have a cataract, you may wonder what healing after the operation is like. This surgery is well studied and well understood, so the recovery process is known to be simple if you follow the advice of your surgeon and optometrist.

This guide can help you understand what it is like to recover from cataract surgery.

Cataract Surgery: Few Complications but Long Healing Time

Cataracts are a very common eye condition that develops in older adults. By age 80, about half of American adults have either developed a cataract or had surgery for a cataract.

Once you are diagnosed with a cataract, there are many options for managing this condition over time, including using brighter lights and updating your glasses prescription. However, at some point, cataracts become significant enough that you cannot see well, and you may struggle to perform daily activities, including reading or using a computer. This is typically when your ophthalmologist will recommend cataract surgery.

There are two basic types of cataract surgery — one that uses a scalpel and one that uses guided lasers — but either type aims to replace your natural lens with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). Although this is considered an outpatient procedure, and this type of surgery has been performed for a long time and is very well understood, cataract surgery requires significant recovery time to let your eye heal.

What to Expect After Cataract Surgery

Cataract surgery involves replacing one organ in your eye with an artificial organ, which is invasive. This means you should expect it to take one to two months, on average, for your eye to heal before you can gradually ease back into various activities.

As you heal from cataract surgery, you should expect the following:

  • Use prescription eye drops as directed by your surgeon and optometrist. You will receive a prescription for antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection, and you might receive a prescription for steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation. Use these only as directed and follow your optometrist’s timeline to taper or quit taking them.
  • Moderate your physical activity, including moving around your house, until your optometrist clears you for certain activities. As your eye heals, you will be able to move more, including returning to some exercise routines.
  • Wear eye protection for showers and baths, at night, and in other situations to support healing.
  • Go to regular checkups with your optometrist who will monitor your eye’s healing progress. These will be scheduled every week or two initially. Then, they’ll move to monthly, so you can know when certain activities are safe and get updates to your glasses prescriptions.

Timeline & Tips for Recovery

Schedule a ride home with a loved one after your surgery, as you will not be able to drive yourself.

When you arrive home, follow your surgeon’s guidelines for the first few days. This involves getting a lot of rest and protecting your eyes. You may not be able to read or use your computer for a day, but your vision should begin to clear shortly after your first eye exam.

  • 1–3 days: In the first 24 to 72 hours after cataract surgery, you will likely experience blurry vision, aching and redness around your eye, and a “foreign body sensation,” as though something is in your eye. This might feel like grit, or it might lead to itching. Do not scratch your eye.

    One day after your surgery, your optometrist will schedule an eye exam to ensure everything is in the right place and to make sure you are following aftercare instructions, including using eye drops. They will evaluate your vision and provide information on how to continue using medications and begin moving around safely.
  • 1–2 weeks: One to two weeks after your procedure, you will have a second eye exam. You should be able to see more clearly, have reduced inflammation, and no longer experience pain or itchiness. If any of these issues continue or have gotten worse, let your optometrist know as soon as possible, potentially even before your exam.

    Your optometrist will determine whether you need to continue antibiotic eye drops, though most people are able to stop them at this point. If you have steroid eye drops, they will set up a taper for this medication.
  • 1 month and beyond: By the end of the first month, you might still have some blurry vision, but you should be able to see clearly enough, no longer experience pain or inflammation, and be able to move around safely, including performing moderate exercise.

    Your optometrist might schedule another one or two eye exams after the second, which will occur at about four to six weeks and at around eight weeks. This will finalize medication tapering and clear you for several activities.

Do’s & Don’ts After Cataract Surgery

After cataract surgery, you should avoid these things:

  • Strenuous activity that might shake or move your eye
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs
  • Getting water in your eye during showers or baths (use special eye protection)
  • Straining your eye with activities like driving

You can support healing by doing these things:

  • Exercising moderately after your optometrist clears this activity
  • Using eye drops as prescribed
  • Getting plenty of rest and reducing stress

FAQs About Cataract Surgery Healing

When does blurriness go away after surgery?

Blurry vision after cataract surgery will go away gradually, but you should have some visual clarity the day after the operation. Within about two weeks, you should be able to see fairly well, and after a month, you should have good, clear vision. If vision problems persist, or blurriness comes and goes, talk to your optometrist during an eye exam.

When can you exercise after surgery?

Your optometrist will clear you to return to an exercise routine within two to three weeks after surgery. However, you may only be able to moderately exercise. If you prefer more strenuous exercise or contact sports, you should wait for one to two months after the surgery.

Can I watch TV or movies after surgery?

Since you will spend a lot of time resting after surgery, you might want to watch television or movies to occupy your time. While your vision may be blurry for a few days after surgery, and you want to avoid straining your eyes during this time, you can watch a show or movie after about 24 to 48 hours.

Immediately after surgery, you should not look at anything. Plan to sleep or relax with your eyes closed instead.

References

  1. Cataract Surgery: Risks, Recovery, Costs. (September 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

  2. Traditional Cataract Surgery vs. Laser-Assisted Cataract Surgery. (April 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

  3. Care of the Adult Patient with Cataract. (March 2004). Optometric Clinical Practice Guideline.

Last Updated May 7, 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.