Cataract surgery is a straightforward outpatient procedure, typically lasting between 10 to 15 minutes.
Recovery is usually quick and uncomplicated, with most people experiencing good vision within a few days and being fully healed within six weeks.
But, the speed at which you heal can depend on a variety of factors, with age being a major one.
What Are Cataracts?
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens in the eye, which can lead to decreased vision.
Symptoms associated with cataracts can include faded colours, blurry or double vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights and trouble seeing at night; which may result in trouble driving, reading or recognizing faces.
Poor vision caused by cataracts can also lead to an increased risk of falling and depression.
Cataracts are most commonly due to ageing but can also be caused by trauma, radiation exposure, or occur following eye surgery for other eye problems. In some instances, they can be present from birth.
Risk factors include diabetes, longstanding use of corticosteroid medication, smoking tobacco and prolonged exposure to sunlight; alcohol may contribute as well.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Cataract Surgery?
Following a successful procedure, you’ll be able to go home on the same day as your cataract surgery.
Usually, you’ll leave the clinic with a protective shield over your eye, which can be removed the day after surgery.
The anaesthetic should wear off a few hours after surgery, during which time you’ll start to regain some feeling in your eye, but it could take a few days for your vision to return to normal.
In general, it takes between 2 to 6 weeks to fully recover from the surgery. During this time, it’s normal to have:
- Blurry vision or double vision
- Gritty feeling
- Red or bloodshot eyes
You’ll usually see some improvement in these symptoms in the first few days after surgery, as your eye heals, but it’s not uncommon for them to take a few weeks to fully resolve.
You’ll have a number of follow up appointments after the procedure, and you can discuss any questions or concerns with your eye doctor as they check to make sure your eye has completely recovered.
What Affects Cataract Surgery Recovery Time?
To ensure your eyes recover as quickly as possible, it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Among other things, these typically include:
- Taking it easy for the first few days after surgery
- Using eye drops as instructed to prevent infection
- Wearing an eye shield during the night and while washing your hair
- Avoiding heavy lifting and strenuous exercise or activities for the first few weeks
- Taking painkillers to deal with any eye pain you might experience
- Avoid swimming or going in hot tubs or saunas for 4 to 6 weeks
- Avoid rubbing your eyes
- Not driving or flying until you’ve had the green light from your doctor
- Don’t wear eye makeup or face cream for up to 4 weeks
- Avoid dusty or dirty activities, such as gardening
Normal activities like reading, watching TV or using a computer will not affect the recovery process, and you’ll be able to do light housework, bathe and shower as usual (although you’ll need to take care while washing your hair).
Can Age Affect Cataract Surgery Recovery Time?
Studies have found that in the very elderly population, visual acuity after cataract surgery tends to be lower than in younger people.
For example, a study published in the British Medical Journal found more than a third of the participants aged 85 or older were up to three times more likely to experience severe impairment in one eye than younger people.
This is largely due to the healing rate and the likelihood of other eye conditions developing or already existing being much higher.
In other words, the older you are, the more likely you are to have pre-existing eye conditions (such as advanced presbyopia) and the slower your body’s healing process will be in comparison to younger people.
The body also tends to heal more slowly with age, and studies have suggested that this is due to the body’s ability to send immune signals to heal wounds being slower.
Although the cataract surgery procedure follows a minimal keyhole approach and leaves very tiny incisions, the body still needs to send signals to the cells in order for them to heal.
Additionally, the eyes of an elderly patient are more likely to have experienced a higher degree of wear and tear than a younger one.
They are more likely to have sustained various stages of eye trauma over the course of their lifetime, whether it’s from rubbing their eyes, dry eye disease or from years of working.
This can make the eyes more delicate which too can affect the healing rate.
Can Pre-Existing Eye Conditions Affect Recovery?
Performing cataract surgery on eyes with pre-existing conditions is often difficult and there can be an increased risk of complications developing.
The most common complication is dry eye disease.
Dry eyes are often underdiagnosed but amenable to treatment. The degree of dry eye symptoms and how it affects vision are essential factors.
Recent research found that “patient-reported visual functioning, dry eye symptoms, and health anxiety are more closely associated with patients’ postoperative satisfaction than with the objective clinical measures of visual acuity or the signs of dry eye.”
As another example, cataract surgery on a patient with advanced myopia can increase the risk of retinal detachment, which is a serious complication.
What About Glaucoma?
It’s possible to carry out cataract surgery on someone with glaucoma but again, there’s a higher risk of complications.
In addition, some types of intraocular lenses (IOLs) may not be suitable if you have advanced glaucoma as they can cause issues like sensitivity to glare.
Due to the higher risk of eye complications, the recovery time for people with pre-existing eye conditions can be longer.
They often have to be more cautious while in recovery. And if complications do develop, this can obviously slow down recovery even further.
Fortunately, the majority of serious complications can be treated quickly and easily before they advance with medication or corrective surgery.
Is There an Age Limit for Cataract Surgery?
Although recovery varies according to different ages, that doesn’t mean older people will always take longer to heal than younger.
It depends on the individual as everyone’s bodies heal at different rates. That’s why age isn’t necessarily the factor that will affect the outcome of your surgery.
In fact, the oldest cataract surgery patient had the operation at 109 years old – and it was successful.
So what else can affect the recovery?
One important factor is how advanced your cataracts are. For most people, if they’re left untreated, they will merely continue to get worse over time.
This will continually reduce vision, preventing them from carrying out normal everyday tasks like driving and can even cause total blindness.
If cataracts get to this stage (also known as being “hyper-mature”), it can make them even more difficult to remove and more likely to lead to post-surgery complications.
As a rule, cataract surgery should be performed soon after vision issues appear, as opposed to waiting months or even years.
The Bottom Line
When you choose the right surgeon and provider for your cataract surgery, you’ll be well on your way to clear vision and a smooth recovery.
Look for a surgeon who is both highly qualified and highly experienced.
This will allow you to feel reassured that you’re in safe, capable hands. For instance, at Focus Clinic, our two surgeons are not only ophthalmologists but they’ve also performed more than 35,000 procedures between them over the course of a combined 45 years.
Their wealth of experience is what has led to our clinic having a 100 per cent success rate.
We also have an unbeatable 9.9 out of 10 rating on Trustpilot, which is why we’re ranked at #1.
This is down to both our high success rate and excellent customer service.
Interested in Reading More About Cataract Surgery?
Recovery isn’t the only thing you might want to know.
From procedure specifics like cataract surgery lens options to cost estimates if you want to go private, we’ve covered it all in our cataract surgery guide.