Cataract Surgery Side Effects

Cataract surgery is typically a smooth procedure with a postoperative recovery period of around 4-6 weeks. During that time it’s usual to experience some mild side effects, which are completely normal.  Of course, any surgical procedure comes with risks. While these are minimal with a cataract procedure, it’s important to know what these might be so you can seek immediate help should anything out of the ordinary occur.

What To Expect After Surgery

Following any surgical procedure, there are some side effects to be expected. With cataract surgery, you might experience some or all of the following: 

A gritty feeling in the eye
Redness and/or a bloodshot eye
Excessive watering
Double vision
Blurred vision
Seeing wavy lines
Sensitivity to light 

All of these are to be expected and tend to gradually improve within a few days. In some cases, these can take up to 6 weeks to rectify completely. You might also experience mild pain that can be treated with over-the-counter pain relief. In some cases, you might get bruising around the eye, similar to that of a black eye. This will be a minor response to any injection you may have received in this area. Again, this normally dissipates within a few days.

The First 24 hours
You may want to sleep on your return home. It’s important not to undertake any exercise or strenuous activity. The feeling should start to return to the eye within a few hours of surgery. However, your vision may not yet fully return.
Days 2 - 7
You will most likely have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon during this period to check that there are no complications, and the healing process is progressing as expected. You’ll have been given eye drops when you left the clinic. These help reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and stimulate the healing process. As long as you feel able to, it’s OK to resume driving.
Weeks 2 - 6
Your eye will gradually adapt to the new lens and any side effects should slowly improve and eventually disappear completely. If you need new glasses, then once the healing process is complete—at around the 6-week mark—you’ll be able to have an eye test and order your new prescription.
Week 6 onwards
 The healing process should be complete, and you can resume all your usual activities.

How to Minimize the Chance of Severe Side Effects

Adhering to the post-surgery advice you’ll be provided with is the key to minimizing the chance of any severe side effects. The following looks at good self-aftercare that will promote healing and a return to normal vision and activities in the shortest period possible:
  • Not doing anything too strenuous for the first few days after surgery
  • Applying your eye drops as instructed by your surgeon
  • Use the eye shield while sleeping and napping for the first few days
  • Wear the eye shield while showering, bathing, and washing your hair
  • Avoid swimming or using hot tubs
  • Wear the eye shield, old glasses, or sunglasses when outside for the first few weeks
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup for at least 4 weeks
  • Don’t rub your eye nor touch it more than is necessary
  • Don’t fly without taking medical advice
  • Gently cleanse your eye with sterilized water

Posterior Capsule Opacification (PCO)

One relatively common after effect that you might have heard of is something called posterior capsule opacification, or PCO. This is where the capsule that the lens is housed in retains some of the clumping proteins that caused the cataract in the first place.

These gather together at the back of the capsule and prevent light from shining through the eye onto the retina as it should. The most important thing to know about PCO is that it is not a recurrence of the cataract. Also, crucially, it’s easily treated with a laser procedure known as YAG. This 5-10 minute process makes a gap through the obstruction, allowing light to flow correctly through the eye once again.

It’s estimated that between 10-20% of people who undergo cataract treatment need a further YAG laser procedure.

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Postoperative side effects

You Won't Have To Worry!

The most important thing to understand is that serious postoperative side effects following a cataract removal are rare. For most people, the operation is a simple, no-nonsense procedure from which it takes around 6 weeks to fully recover. After this, vision is greatly improved and life can continue as normal.

Many people will need both eyes treated for cataract removal. In such cases, this won’t be carried out at the same time. Your eye doctor will advise as to how long you should wait between having each eye operated on. This could be as short as 6 weeks apart if they’ve both evolved at roughly the same rate. Conversely, you might wait a lengthy period between the two as, very often, cataracts don’t form at the same speed in both eyes.
While it can be a worry knowing that you’re going to undergo surgery on your eyes, you should take comfort from the fact that cataract removal is one of the most common procedures carried out around the world. The success rate is extremely high and serious side effects are rare. The key takeaway is the positive impact on your life that the operation brings, with better eyesight being something that’s truly beneficial.

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