Cataract surgery: what to expect during the surgery (2023)

Cataract surgery, also known as lens replacement surgery, is a routine treatment for cataracts, or the clouding of the lens of the eye. In the procedure, a surgeon makes a small incision in the eye's cornea, removes the defective lens, and replaces it with a prosthesis called an intraocular lens (IOL). A relatively quick and painless outpatient surgery - the surgery itself usually takes between 15 minutes and an hour - patients can usually go home the same day.This treatment is very well tolerated and very successful in correcting this problem; However, success also depends on the pre- and post-treatment of the patient. When undergoing this procedure, it is important to listen carefully to the healthcare provider; The more you know, the better off you will be on the day of your cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery: what to expect during the surgery (1)

Before the operation

On the day of cataract surgery you should allow between three and six hours total and make sure you have transportation arranged as you will not be able to drive afterwards. If you have cataracts in both eyes, you will need two separate treatments. The necessary tests and diagnostics have already been done, so the main task before surgery is to make sure you are ready. Cataract surgery is performed while the patient is awake, and the preparation involves several steps:

  • Initial examination:Usually, the first step is for a nurse or other professional to sit with you and confirm your medical information and make a quick health assessment. Be sure to let them know if there are any changes or new developments.
  • Eye drop:Before the procedure, you will be given eye drops to dilate the eye. You may also need to take prescribed eye drops in advance of the procedure to prevent inflammation and infection of the area.
  • Anti-anxiety medication:Talk to your doctor if you're feeling particularly concerned about the procedure; They can prescribe special medications to help you relax.
  • Local anesthetic:Since the procedure is not performed on the "sleeping" patient (general anesthesia), a local anesthetic must be administered to numb the area. This is also done with eye drops or, in some cases, with an injection. After administration, you will be asked to relax in the operating room for about 30 minutes to allow the medication to take effect. In some cases, an IV line can be placed in your hand.

It is important that you should sit still during the procedure, but the doctor will advise you on how to raise any concerns.

during the operation

You will be awake and lying on your back (face up) on an operating table. The procedure itself takes between 15 and 45 minutes. During the operation, your face and shoulders will be covered with towels to ensure the area is clean and hygienic, and the doctor will use a special microscope to get a closer look at the area.The main idea here is to safely remove the clouded lens and replace it with an IOL; This is performed by a specialized healthcare provider called an ophthalmologist, as well as support staff. In some cases, an anesthesiologist is also present.

Depending on the extent of the cataract, two main types of cataract surgery are indicated. These are listed below:

  • Cataract surgery with small incisions:Once the eye is anesthetized, the ophthalmologist makes a tiny incision on the cornea and inserts a special, small probe. This device emits ultrasonic waves that break open the damaged lens so the pieces can be removed, a process known asPhakoemulsification. After these are removed, the healthcare provider implants the IOL; This permanent implant is well tolerated and can correct other vision problems such as:Astigmatism(an irregular shape of the lens that causes blurred vision). The incision does not need to be sewn up. This approach is most popular in the US.
  • Extracapsular:In cases where the cataract is so advanced that phacoemulsification is likely to be ineffective, this approach involves a slightly larger incision. This allows the surgeon to physically remove the lens using special tools. Because the incisions for this type of surgery are larger, sutures are usually required after the IOL is placed.

Cataract surgery is painless apart from the injection of drugs or anesthetics. In rare cases, usually when the patient is a young child or is neuroatypical, general anesthesia may be used, putting the patient to sleep.Be sure to talk to your doctor about your options.

After the operation

Immediately after cataract surgery, the ophthalmologist will perform a quick assessment and exam, and the affected eye will usually be covered with eye protection. You'll be taken to a recovery room and allowed to rest while the sedative drugs and anesthetic wear off. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • No driving:You should not drive a motor vehicle until your eye has healed. Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to do so.
  • Don't touch your eye:Avoid touching or rubbing your eye as much as possible in the weeks following surgery.
  • Resumption of activity:You may need to take a break from physical activity for at least a few days after cataract surgery. Again, your healthcare provider will provide you with a timetable for when to resume such activities.

In most cases, you will be given special eye drops and pain-relieving medication to help you recover. All in all, it takes about eight weeks to fully recover from cataract surgery. During this time, be sure to contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

(Video) What to Expect on the Day of Your Cataract Surgery

  • Strong pain:While some discomfort is to be expected after this procedure, if you are experiencing pain in and around your eye despite the medication you are taking, be sure to consult your doctor.
  • Problemsymptome:If you experience redness, swelling or blurred vision in the post-op period, something may have gone wrong. Therefore, be sure to inform your doctor.
  • Deterioration of visual acuity:If your vision keeps getting worse after the operation - especially if you experienced an initial improvement - this can also be a sign that the operation did not go completely well.

There are no dietary restrictions after this surgery. Most people are usually advised to wait before resuming physical activity. Wait for your doctor's approval before returning to exercise or any strenuous physical activity.

As the staff will tell you, you will need to schedule a follow-up appointment afterwards to ensure your eye is healing appropriately. During this time, it is absolutely essential that you follow the healthcare provider's instructions and be in solid communication with the medical staff. Depending on the case, this can take place as early as one day after the operation, but this appointment usually takes place a week after the operation.

In particular, on rare occasions, the IOL can become cloudy, a condition called secondary cataracts. In these cases, an additional procedure is performed with a laser, called a yag capsulotomy.Since the problem here is basically that the prosthetic lens has thickened, this treatment uses a laser light to create a small opening to remove the clouded capsule.

Dry eyes after cataract surgery

A word from Verywell

When it comes to cataract surgery, it's important to remember that this is a very common procedure and is usually well tolerated. The vast majority of patients are satisfied with the procedure. Complications can arise, so risks and benefits of surgery should be discussed with your doctor to make an informed decision. If you are undergoing this procedure, you should also communicate with the hospital staff and your loved ones. With your support you will help to achieve the best possible result.

5 sources

(Video) What to Expect After Cataract Surgery

Verywell Health uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read ourseditorial processto learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. University of Hull Teaching Hospitals, NHS Trust.Coming to the hospital for cataract surgery. 2018.

  2. American Optometric Association.cataract surgery. 2020.

  3. Bitzer WCan I have the operation under general anesthesia?. 2016.

  4. Guy's und St. Thomas', NHS Foundation Trust.Your guide to cataract surgery. 2018.

  5. National Eye Institute.cataract surgery. 2019.

    (Video) Cataract surgery: What to expect | Ohio State Medical Center

Cataract surgery: what to expect during the surgery (2)

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(Video) Cataract Surgery


Do you know whats going on during cataract surgery? ›

During cataract surgery

First, we create a tiny incision in your eye with the laser near the edge of your cornea, and then emulsify the cataract and your natural lens using ultrasound. We remove the emulsified material of your old lens through the tiny incision and install your new, clear intraocular lens.

What actually happens during cataract surgery? ›

During cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed, and a clear artificial lens is usually implanted. In some cases, however, a cataract may be removed without implanting an artificial lens. Surgical methods used to remove cataracts include: Using an ultrasound probe to break up the lens for removal.

What can I expect during and after cataract surgery? ›

After surgery, your eye may feel scratchy, sticky, or uncomfortable. It may also water more than usual. Most people see better 1 to 3 days after surgery. But it could take 3 to 10 weeks to get the full benefits of surgery and to see as clearly as possible.

How long are you asleep during cataract surgery? ›

The procedure itself usually lasts less than 15 minutes and is virtually painless. Typically, patients are awake during cataract surgery.

How do they hold your eye open during cataract surgery? ›

An eye holder gently keeps the lid open during the procedure to prevent blinking. Although this may sound alarming, there is usually little to no sensation from the lid holder because the eye gets numbed before its use.

Can you talk during cataract surgery? ›

This completely numbs the eye so although you awake and you can hear your surgeon talking (you are not allowed to speak during the surgery as that moves the head and could be highly dangerous). You lie on a comfortable couch with a bright light.

How long do you wear eye shield at night after cataract surgery? ›

take it easy for the first 2 to 3 days. use your eye shield at night for at least a week. take painkillers if you need to. bathe or shower yourself as usual.

Is there feeling inside the eye after cataract surgery? ›

Discomfort/feeling that something is in the eye

Many people complain that they feel like there is sand in the eye or that the eye feels scratchy after surgery. This is a normal sensation caused by the small incision in your eye, and it should heal within a week or so.

What happens first day after cataract surgery? ›

On the day after you have cataract surgery, your vision may be blurry or uneven. This is normal as your vision needs time to adjust and heal. Most cataract surgeons will ask you to come in for your first follow-up appointment the day after cataract surgery. It's extremely important that you attend this appointment.

How long do you wear a bandage after cataract surgery? ›

You may be instructed to sleep with the shield for at least one week following your surgery. Other things you can do to ensure that your cataract surgery is successful include: Use your eye drops as prescribed. Be sure not to rub or press on your eye.

How long after cataract surgery can I watch TV? ›

Several hours following the surgery, most patients are able to watch some television or look at a computer screen for a short period of time. It's important however that you don't over-exert your eyes during the first 24 hours post-surgery. You can expect to return to most normal activities during the first week.

Do you have to undress for cataract surgery? ›

You will not be asked to undress prior to your surgery. Please wear clean loose fitting clothing such as a blouse or shirt that can be opened down the front.

Are you lying flat during cataract surgery? ›

The patient sits upright or semi-recumbent, and the surgeon sits or stands, facing the patient. The microscope is rotated forward, and surgery is done via an incision in the lower half of the cornea, using topical intracameral anesthesia.

Can you walk immediately after cataract surgery? ›

Most people can do very light exercise the day after surgery, including walking. For activities like biking, running, tennis, golf and sex, wait one week after your procedure. If you are a swimmer, doctors advise you to wait two weeks before going in the water to minimize your risk of infection and irritation.

Do they tape your eyes shut during surgery? ›

Small pieces of sticking tape are commonly used to keep the eyelids fully closed during the anaesthetic. This has been shown to reduce the chance of a corneal abrasion occurring. 1,2 However, bruising of the eyelid can occur when the tape is removed, especially if you have thin skin and bruise easily.

Do they give you oxygen during cataract surgery? ›

Although bilateral nasal cannula oxygen supplementation is commonly used during cataract surgery, there is little need for this technique. During eye surgery, drapes are sealed around the eye and cover the patient. The drapes are impenetrable and confine gases completely.

What I wish I knew before cataract surgery? ›

Here are some things that you may want to avoid before and after cataract surgery to ensure that you heal properly. Avoiding eating and drinking before your surgery. Don't wear makeup to the surgery appointment, and avoid wearing makeup until your ophthalmologist allows it so that you can better prevent infection.

Will I feel claustrophobic during cataract surgery? ›

In addition, some patients become claustrophobic under the drape and others may experience a variety of visual sensations that up to 15% find frightening. Various studies have been undertaken looking into factors that cause anxiety and into the emotional aspects of cataract surgery.


1. Advances in Cataract Surgery
(Hartford HealthCare)
2. Cataract Surgery with a Toric Lens
(Sharp HealthCare)
3. YAG Capsulotomy After Cataract Surgery
(Sharp HealthCare)
4. Cataracts and Cataract Surgery | Mitra Nejad, MD
(UCLA Health)
5. What to Expect During Cataract Surgery - Milan Eye Center
(Milan Eye Center)
6. Advances in Cataract Surgery: What You Need to Know
(Yale Medicine)
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