Cataract surgery is typically a straightforward, uncomplicated procedure. Because cataracts are considered a normal part of aging and our expected lifespans are increasing with advances in medicine, the number of cataract surgeries performed every year in the US is approaching the 4 million mark. That’s a lot of cataract extractions.
A cataract is an opacity in the lens of the eye. Usually this lens is clear and transparent so that light can easily pass through to reach the back of the eye to form vision. Various factors can underlie the development of a cataract – age is the main one, but other factors such as environment, lifestyle choices, certain medications, systemic diseases, and trauma, can also contribute to the formation of a cataract in the eye.
The only way to definitively treat a cataract is through surgical removal. In the early days of an age-related cataract, adjusting your spectacle or contact lens prescription may have been sufficient to keep you happy with your vision, but eventually the progressive clouding and haziness of your lens would require the cataract to be removed altogether in order to restore your vision. While any surgical operation comes with some degree of risk, be reassured that cataract surgery is associated with very high rates of success. After your procedure, your eye doctor will give you a list of post-operative care instructions. The exact details of this list may differ slightly depending on your doctor and the specifics of your surgery, but here’s a little cheat sheet of tips to optimize your cataract surgery recovery.
Protect Your Eye
You’re not going to have a gaping wound around your eye after cataract removal as the corneal incision made during the procedure is tiny and self-seals quite well, but you’re still going to want to keep the eye as clean and protected as possible.
Most likely you’ll be provided a plastic shield to cover the operated eye after surgery. Your surgeon may advise you to leave this on for the day after your procedure and then to wear it only overnight for about a week thereafter to keep you from accidentally rubbing or pressing on the eye during sleep.
Keep the eye area as clean and hygienic as you can. This means avoiding cosmetics around the eye and environments that expose you to dirt, dust, or debris that could get caught in the eye. It’s also a good idea to stay away from swimming pools, hot tubs, and saunas during the first week post-op as these water sources are breeding grounds for infective pathogens that will find your healing eye quite homely. A shower or bath on the day of the procedure should be okay but keep soaps and facewash away from the eye, and be gentle when wiping the area.
You just had an operation! Albeit one that probably only took 15 to 20 minutes, but it is an operation nonetheless. You may be feeling a little lethargic or under the weather immediately after the procedure so it’s definitely recommended to have someone drive you home on the day of surgery. Depending on a few factors, such as the vision in your other eye and how well your vision is recovering in the operated eye, you may be advised against driving for a few days or few weeks.
It’s also recommended to hold off on strenuous activity or heavy lifting for a few weeks, whether it’s housework or exercise. While light chores or a casual stroll is okay, you don’t want to be putting any undue pressure on the eye, so make the most of this time by getting someone else to do all the cleaning. Immediately after surgery, avoiding more involuntary actions that typically make your eyes feel like they’re going to pop (luckily they won’t literally pop) like sneezing, vomiting, or coughing is also recommended where possible.
Use Your Prescribed Eye Drops
Most cataract surgeons will prescribe you 2 to 3 medicated eye drops to use multiple times a day for a few weeks after your procedure, typically anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medications. These are to control the reactive inflammatory response of the body after having been through an operation, which will aid recovery by reducing redness and soreness, while the antibiotic is to prevent any opportunistic infections from occurring while the eye heals. Especially once the eye starts feeling better within the few days following surgery, it can be tempting to forget to use the drops or think that you can reduce the dosing schedule – don’t be fooled. Failing to follow the prescribed medication regime can potentially result in prolonging your cataract recovery time as the inflammation may rebound more aggressively than before, or bacteria may decide to make your eye their home if left unchecked. If you have difficulty remembering or instilling the eye drops yourself, set yourself a reminder on your smartphone or get a family member or friend to help you out.
Follow Doctor’s Orders!
Out of the entire cheat sheet of cataract surgery recovery tips, this is the most important. Your eye surgeon probably has much more experience with cataracts and cataract surgery than you do, so it’s a good idea to take heed of their recommendations. You’ll most likely be scheduled at least a couple of review appointments after your operation to check that the eye is healing as it should and your vision is what everyone is expecting it to be. Your doctor will give you instructions on what to look out for when something is not quite right (things like the eye is increasing in pain or redness, develops a mucus discharge, or deteriorating vision) and what to do if that happens (call the clinic immediately). Waiting a week to see if that giant black hole in your vision goes away by itself is not following doctor’s orders.
In a lot of cases, vision is remarkably clearer even the day immediately after cataract surgery, though your eye will still have a lot of healing and adjusting to do in the following weeks. There is some grittiness and soreness to be expected but under the expert hand of your surgeon or by an ophthalmologist trained in the removal of cataracts who can expertly give you post-cataract surgery advice, you can minimize your cataract surgery recovery time.
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