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Cataract surgery: treatment and recovery period

Grauer Star OP

Whether you're personally affected by them or not, you've probably heard of cataracts or cataract surgery. Cataracts are a clouding of the eye's lens that usually becomes noticeable in old age. In the worst case scenario, cataracts can lead to blindness if left untreated.

To prevent this, the clouded lens is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens. This operation has become a routine procedure. It generally takes less than an hour and is performed on an outpatient basis.

How are cataracts treated?

Cataracts develop gradually over several years and are often only noticed at an advanced age. Unfortunately, there are no medications or non-surgical treatment options to stop the progression of cataracts.

Suitable contact lenses or glasses can delay an operation somewhat. However, once vision is too limited, there is no way around a minor surgical procedure. This is recommended by ophthalmologists because it can completely restore vision.

Cataract surgery is a routine procedure and takes about 30-45 minutes. It has a high success rate for improving your eyesight. If you are in good health and can carry out the subsequent aftercare at home, cataract surgery is performed on an outpatient basis.

After the operation, your eyes will be very sensitive to light and it will take a few days for your vision to adjust properly with the new lenses. Patients often hope for perfect vision immediately, but it can take a bit of time. Therefore, take it slowly and take care of your eyes. Suitable visual aids, such as glasses or sunglasses, can help.

How does cataract surgery work?

During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is surgically removed and replaced with an artificial lens.

A local anaesthetic will be administered so you should be able to go home the same day. A small incision, about 3 mm, is then made in the cornea. There are two widely known procedures:

The most common procedure is extracapsular lens extraction in which the natural lens capsule remains in the eye. The lens nucleus and lens cortex are liquefied using ultrasound and then suctioned off. The artificial lens is then inserted into the lens capsule. With this method, there are usually no complications and the new artificial lens has a stable fit.
Another type is intracapsular lens extraction where the whole lens, including the lens capsule, is removed from the eye. This method requires a larger incision in the cornea and sclera so that the lens can be extracted from the eye. This can cause more injuries in the eye and retention of the new lens is not guaranteed. Today, this process is performed less frequently.

After the operation you may receive an eye pad or plastic shield which can typically be removed the day after surgery. Your doctor will inform you of all the aftercare and recovery steps specific to your case.

In general, you won't feel any pain. You might notice your eyes feel slightly different since there is a new foreign body present. Your body will get used to the feeling quickly. Your eyes might also feel itchy. This will subside after a few days. If you notice any other complications or experience severe pain, please visit your ophthalmologist immediately.

Which implants are used for cataract surgery?

There are different lens implants.

  • Monofocal lenses are standard lenses that allow you to see clearly either close up or at a distance. To see well at all distances, you will need additional glasses.
  • In contrast, there are multifocal lenses that provide clear close-up and distance vision.

Ask your ophthalmologist which lens is the best for your eyes and visual impairment.

Do I get sick leave for cataract surgery?

If you work, how soon you can return depends on the specifics of your cataract surgery and your job. It is a medical operation and your doctor will advise you on the specifics of your recovery and what to expect.

What should I know about recovery after cataract surgery?

The rest period following surgery is particularly important. Allow yourself and your eyes time to rest for the first two weeks after the operation. The rest period helps your new lens to settle into the eye and improve your vision.

Avoid lifting heavy objects and avoid bending over so as to not put excess pressure on the eyes. Reading a lot can be tiring on the eyes. Be careful with dust, cosmetics or other small particles that come close to your eye. Do not rub your eyes. Do not drive until your doctor lets you know you're cleared to get behind the wheel again.

Is it advisable to wear glasses to treat cataracts?

In the early stages of cataracts, wearing glasses can improve your vision and possibly delay surgery. However, if the clouding of the lens is in an advanced stage, only a replacement of your eye lens will help to restore your vision.

After cataract surgery, it is important to protect your eyes with suitable glasses.

The artificial lens in the eye needs some adjustment time, whereby the definitive vision correction can be determined after approximately 5-7 weeks. During this time you should wear a temporary visual aid. After that, it is important that you get a new prescription and have new lenses made. In most cases, surgery will completely change the correction.

Should I wear sunglasses after my cataract surgery?

With cataracts, your eyes become accustomed to clouded, light-reduced vision over a long period of time. After the operation, everything can appear very bright and blinding. Therefore, you should also think about wearing high-quality sunglasses. Especially when you are outside, you should have good sun protection for your eyes.

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Want to learn about different eye problems? Read the Lentiamo guide on eye diseases to learn more about topics such glaucoma or red eyes.


1. NHS, Cataract surgery