Recovering from cataract surgery 

You can usually go home on the same day you have cataract surgery, although you will need to arrange for someone to collect you and take you home.

You will normally have a pad and plastic shield over your eye when you leave hospital. This can usually be removed the following day, although you may be advised to wear the shield at night for a week or two. This is to prevent you rubbing or pushing your eye when you are asleep.

You should start to get feeling back in your eye within a few hours of surgery, although it may take a few days for your vision to fully return. If possible, you may find it useful to arrange for someone to help take care of you until your vision returns, particularly if the vision in your other eye is poor.

Follow-up

Before leaving hospital, you will be given a 24-hour phone number to call if you have any problems. You will also be given some drops you need to use for the next four weeks to help the eye heal and prevent infection. You will also be told when to return for a follow-up appointment.

The follow-up appointment will usually take place at some point between two and six weeks after the operation. During this appointment, an eye care professional will check your eye and you will be told when you can stop using the eye drops.

If you need new glasses, you will be told when you should visit an optometrist (optician) to have your eyes tested and glasses fitted. In most cases, you will have to wait several weeks for your vision to settle down before an optometrist can give you a new glasses prescription.

Recovering at home 

You should try to take it easy for the first two or three days after cataract surgery. Continue to use the eye drops that you have been given until you are advised that you can stop. These are usually needed for a few weeks.

You will probably experience some side effects after surgery, such as:

  • mild pain in and around the eye
  • an itchy or sticky eye
  • blurred vision
  • a feeling of grittiness in the eye
  • a slight headache
  • bruising of the skin around the eye

However, these side effects are completely normal and should improve in a few days. You can take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as paracetamol, if you experience any discomfort.

When to seek medical advice

Contact the hospital where the operation was carried out for advice as soon as possible if you experience:

  • severe or increasing pain
  • worsening or loss of vision
  • increasing redness in the treated eye
  • the sudden appearance of floaters (black dots, specks or streaks in your field of vision) or flashes of light in the treated eye

These problems may be a sign of a complication of cataract surgery.

Activities

Your surgeon will advise you about any activities you need to avoid while recovering from your operation.

In many cases, you will be allowed to bend over, carry shopping, wash your face and hair, and generally carry on with life as normal. However, you should:

  • try not to touch or rub your eye
  • keep soap and shampoo out of your eyes
  • avoid wearing eye make-up for one week
  • avoid swimming for two to four weeks
  • avoid sports and activities where there is a risk that you may get knocked in the eye for two to four weeks

You can read and watch television almost immediately without doing any harm, although your vision may be blurry until your eye gets used to its new lens or you have new glasses fitted.

If you work, how soon you can return will largely depend on what your job involves. Most people can return after a few days, but you may need a few weeks off if your job involves strenuous activities or potential exposure to liquid or dust that could get into your eye.

Driving

Up to 90% of people who have surgery for cataracts will eventually have a good enough level of vision to start driving again if they have no other eye condition.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) states that you can start driving again if you can read a number plate 20 metres away with both eyes open. Many people who have cataract surgery will need glasses to be able to do this, in which case you will need to wait until your new glasses are fitted a few weeks after surgery.

If your vision is good in the other eye, you may be able to do this sooner, but in either case you also need to be confident doing an emergency stop.

Wearing glasses after cataract surgery

Most people will need to wear glasses for either long or short distance vision after cataract surgery, even if they didn't need to before the operation. This is because artificial lens implants cannot focus on a range of different distances.

Natural lenses can do this in people under 50 years of age, but this ability is gradually lost with age, so most people require reading glasses before surgery anyway.

A review of a number of studies found that 95% of people with a monofocal lens and about 70% of people with a multifocal lens needed glasses after having cataract surgery.

Another type of artificial lens, called an accommodating lens, is designed to act in a more similar way to a natural lens. This should allow for a better range of focus after cataract surgery. 

However, while there is evidence these lenses improve the range of focus, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says more evidence is needed to be sure these lenses improve accommodation (how the lens adapts to focus images) before they are made routinely available on the NHS.

Read the NICE guidance on the use of accommodating lenses and multifocal lenses.

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2014

Next review due: 12/03/2016