What to Expect from Cataract Surgery

By Ben Cornu

About 4 million Americans undergo cataract surgery each year. And most of these surgeries are performed on seniors. This surgery helps improve vision by removing cataracts that form in the eye. As you or a loved one prepares for this type of surgery, it’s helpful to know what to expect.

What Is a Cataract? 

A cataract is clouding within the lens of the eye. In a healthy eye, the lens is clear. However, as we age, the proteins in the eye start to break down and clump together. The body loses its ability to clear these proteins, and they form a cloudy area — or cataract.  

When cataracts develop, they may not impact your vision at first, but they can significantly impair vision over time. A cataract can cause blurred vision and increase glare from bright lights, making it hard to drive, read, or perform other daily tasks.  

When to Have Cataract Surgery 

You may want to get cataract surgery if your cataracts interfere with your vision and affect day-to-day life. If you are still able to see fairly clearly and perform daily activities safely, your doctor may recommend that you wait.  

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What Should You Expect for Cataract Surgery? 

Before Surgery 

To remove a cataract, the entire lens must be removed and replaced. So before surgery, your ophthalmologist, or eye doctor, will measure your eye carefully through a series of tests and discuss the best artificial lens replacement option for you. 

Intraocular lenses, or IOLs, are made of plastic, silicone, or acrylic and are shaped to mimic your natural lens. Common types of IOLs include the following: 

  • Monofocal: Monofocal lenses, or standard IOLs, have a single strength to help you achieve your best distance vision. However, reading will usually require reading glasses. 
  • Multifocal: Multifocal lenses, a type of premium IOL, have multiple strengths built in — like bifocals or progressive glasses. This allows the eye to adapt to near, intermediate, and far vision. 
  • Toric: Toric lenses, another type of premium IOL, are designed to correct astigmatism. They can be monofocal or multifocal.   

Before the procedure, your eye doctor may also prescribe antibiotic eye drops to help prevent infection or reduce swelling. They will ask about current medications and ask you to stop taking any medications that could interfere with your surgery and recovery. 

During Surgery 

Cataract surgery is an outpatient procedure performed by an ophthalmologist. You will be awake for this procedure, but the doctor will numb the eye with local anesthetic — eyedrops or an injection. The doctor might also give you medication to help you stay relaxed.  

The doctor will begin by placing eyedrops that dilate, or widen, your pupils. Small clamps will be placed around the eye to keep your eyelids open during the procedure, but you won’t see what’s going on during surgery. 

Next, the ophthalmologist will remove the clouded lens from the eye. There are several different ways to do this: 

  • Break up the lens: The ophthalmologist can make a small incision in your cornea, or the clear covering of your eye. Then, they use a small ultrasound probe to deliver sound waves to the lens. This breaks it up into small pieces. The doctor then uses a tiny vacuum to remove the pieces of the old lens. Next, the new lens is inserted into place. This procedure is called phacoemulsification. 
  • Remove the lens in one piece: The ophthalmologist can also make a large incision and remove the lens in one piece. This is typically done if cataracts are severe and too large to break up with the ultrasound probe or if you have certain eye conditions. Because of the larger incision, the doctor will stitch up the cornea. This procedure is called extracapsular cataract extraction. 
  • Use laser to assist. Instead of using a scalpel to make incisions in the eye, your doctor may recommend laser-assisted cataract surgery. Lasers can also be used to help correct some vision problems. The laser can also help soften the cataract so that it’s easier to remove. 

Many individuals report that cataract surgery is painless. And it can be completed within an half an hour if there are no complications. 

If you have cataracts in both eyes, the doctor will usually only perform surgery on one eye at a time, waiting a few weeks between surgeries. 

After Surgery 

You will likely remain at the doctor’s office for about 30 minutes so the team can monitor you for any adverse side effects. Then, you will need someone to drive you home. You may be given an eye cover and prescription eye drops to help with the healing process. You will likely have blurry vision following the procedure. You will have a follow-up visit within a few days of surgery to monitor your recovery. 

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What Is Recovery Like? 

It can take up to 8 weeks for your eye to fully recover; however, your vision should improve within a few days. You may experience some mild side effects, including the following: 

  • Blurry vision 
  • Double vision 
  • Gritty feeling 
  • Watery eyes 
  • Red eyes 

To achieve a healthy recovery, your doctor may give you a list of temporary Dos and Don’ts that may include the following: 

  • DON’T get your eyes wet 
  • DON’T wear makeup 
  • DON’T drive 
  • DON’T do any heavy lifting 
  • DON’T rub your eye 
  • DO take eye drops as directed 
  • DO take it easy when resuming your routine 
  • DO wear an eye shield while sleeping 

Everyone’s recovery time and overall experience will be a little different. So, listen to your doctor and attend your follow-up visits. 

Does Cataract Surgery Have Complications? 

As with any surgery, cataract surgery does have potential risks and complications. Some of these complications could include the following: 

  • Eye infection, inflammation, or bleeding 
  • Vision loss 
  • Retinal detachment 
  • Cloudiness in the eye 
  • Glare, halos, or shadows 

Reach out to your doctor if you experience these symptoms following your surgery. 

How Much Does Cataract Surgery Cost? 

The cost of cataract surgery depends on your insurance and they type of surgery and lens you receive. Most insurance companies, including Medicare, will cover a monofocal lens. If you are paying out-of-pocket, the costs can range from $3,000 to $5,000 per eye. 


If you or a loved one is getting cataract surgery and needs assistance at home during recovery, our home care experts can help. Reach out to your local Caring team

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Tags: Senior Health, Eye Health