Recovering from cataract surgery 

You should be able to go home on the day you have cataract surgery, but you'll need to arrange for someone to collect you and take you home.

You'll probably have a pad and plastic shield over your eye when you leave hospital, which can usually be removed the following day.

However, you may be advised to wear the shield at night for the first week or so to stop you touching or rubbing your eye while you're asleep.

Feeling should start to return to your eye within a few hours of surgery, but it may take a few days for your vision to fully return.

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.

Before you leave hospital, you'll be given some eye drops to use for four weeks to help your eye heal and prevent infection. You'll be advised further about the use of eye drops at your follow-up appointment.

Recovering at home 

Take it easy for the first two or three days after having cataract surgery. Start using the eye drops after removing the eye shield the day after your operation, and continue to use them until you're advised you can stop – they'll usually be needed for four weeks.

After surgery, you'll probably experience:

  • mild pain in and around your eye
  • an itchy or sticky eye
  • blurred vision
  • a feeling of grittiness in your eye
  • a slight headache
  • bruising of the skin around the eye
  • discomfort when looking at bright lights

These side effects are completely normal and should improve within a few days.

Taking an over-the-counter painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will help reduce any pain. Wearing sunglasses may also help avoid any short-term discomfort caused by bright lights.

When to seek medical advice

Upon leaving hospital, you'll be given a 24-hour phone number to call if you have any problems. Seek medical advice as soon as possible if you experience:

  • a throbbing or severe pain in or around your eye
  • a severe frontal headache with or without nausea and vomiting
  • a sudden deterioration or loss of vision
  • increasing redness in your eye
  • the sudden appearance of black dots, specks or streaks in your field of vision (floaters) or flashes of light in your 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 most cases, you'll be able to be up and about, bathe, shower, and wash your face and hair. However, you should:

  • avoid strenuous activities, such as lifting heavy objects
  • avoid bending with your head below waist level for extended periods of time
  • avoid touching, rubbing or knocking 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's a risk of your eye being knocked 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 cataract surgery will eventually have a good enough level of vision to start driving again if they don't have another eye condition.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) states you can start driving again if you can read a number plate 20 metres (about 65.5 feet) away with both eyes open.

Many people who have cataract surgery will need glasses to be able to do this, in which case you'll 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 can't focus on a range of different distances.

Natural lenses can do this in people under the age of 50, 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 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 similar way to a natural lens. This should allow for a better range of focus after cataract surgery. 

However, while there's 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 they improve how the lens adapts to focus images before they're made routinely available on the NHS.

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

Follow-up

When you're discharged from hospital after your cataract operation, you'll be told when to return for a follow-up appointment.

Follow-up arrangements vary, but may include a check by a nurse or optometrist after a week. You should also have another follow-up appointment four to six weeks after your operation, which may be at a high street optician. 

During your appointment, an eye care professional will check your eye and tell you when you can stop using the eye drops.

If you need new glasses, you'll be told when you should visit an optometrist (optician) to have your eyes tested and glasses fitted.

It's usually necessary to wait several weeks for your vision to settle down before an optometrist can give you a new glasses prescription.

Page last reviewed: 21/02/2016

Next review due: 01/02/2019