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What To Expect After Cataract Surgery

It's tempting to think you can plunge straight back into normal life. But don't!

It's tempting to think you can plunge straight back into normal life. But don't!

If you've just had cataract surgery, you may be feeling a little confused. These days it's a walk-in, walk-out procedure, and you may go straight back to work the next day. On the other hand, you've probably been given a leaflet telling you to take a whole range of precautions for the next several days, weeks, or even months.

So, should you treat yourself with kid gloves or not?

Understandably, doctors want to downplay the risks of cataract surgery; why make patients needlessly anxious when most people sail through with no complications? But you only have one set of eyes; it's important to know what you can and can't do and what's worth worrying about.

Take It Easy!

After cataract surgery, your eye may feel gritty or sore. But otherwise, you'll feel like your normal self—with the bonus that the world suddenly looks bright and sparkling! So it's tempting to think you can plunge straight back into normal life.

Don't! You've just undergone incredibly delicate eye surgery. Even though you can't see it and may not be able to feel it, you now have a wound in your eye that needs to heal. You may have tiny stitches and you don't want them to burst! The new lens isn't securely embedded in place yet, and you don't want it to be jolted out of position (because that will leave you with blurry vision forever). You also don't want to do anything that might cause swelling or bleeding behind the eye.

Although it takes a couple of months for your eye to fully heal, it's in the first week or two that you have to be most careful.

Don't Get Your Head Wet!

Exposing your eyes to water after recent surgery can lead to infection. Extra care in the bathroom is important.

Precautions for Showering and Bathing

Bacteria are everywhere in our lives. If you're healthy, that's not a problem—but if you have a wound, bacteria can enter and cause an infection. Although it's been carefully made and carefully stitched, the incision in your eye is still a wound, so you need to avoid anything that might harbour harmful bacteria.

Even clean water may contain bacteria—or it can wash bacteria from your skin into your eye. Keep your face out of the shower for the first week, not just to avoid getting water in your eyes but also to avoid any need to rub or press on them (think about it: what's the first thing you do after you've dunked your face underwater?).

Strategies for Self-Care

You can use baby wipes or make-up wipes to clean your face until you're allowed to put your head under the shower.

Of course, that means you also can't wash your hair. Most surgeons recommend you don't wash your hair at all for the first two or three days. After that, they'll only allow you to wash it with your head tilted backwards so the water runs away from your face. If that's a problem at home, you may need to go to a hairdresser's.

It also means absolutely no swimming and especially no hot tubs for the first two weeks. Swimming pools and spas are loaded with bacteria: that's why they have to be constantly dosed with chlorine and other chemicals. The hotter the water, the more likely there are bacteria in the water, and you cannot afford to get them anywhere near your eye! Contamination in seawater is also commonplace, so sea bathing is out of the question too.

When Can I Go Back to the Gym?

Although a few doctors say you can go straight back to normal after surgery, most surgeons recommend NO exertion for the first week. That includes any kind of exercise, including all sports, no matter how gentle.

After a week, you can start gentle activities, such as walking or lawn bowls.

You must wait at least two weeks before restarting any vigorous exercise such as aerobics, contact sports or weight training.

If you're an exercise nut or a keen sportsman, you may be tempted to ignore these restrictions—but isn't it better to miss out on a couple of weeks' exercise than risk your sight? Think about the impact of your foot on the pavement when you run and how that jarring transmits through your body to your eye. Imagine the feeling of pressure in your body when you lift a heavy weight: That transmits to your eye, too.

Working Post-Surgery

More importantly, if you work in a job that involves physical exertion—even if it's babysitting the grandkids —let your surgeon know. Because most cataract patients are retired, doctors often forget to ask what you do for a living. Even if they know you're working, they may assume an older person isn't doing a physically demanding job. That's why one grandma didn't know that picking up her hefty young grandson would tear her stitches and require another operation!

If your work involves lifting heavy objects, digging, or any other physical activity, you may have to take one or two weeks of sick leave or request light duties for the two weeks after your op.

Are you unsure about having sex after cataract surgery?

Are you unsure about having sex after cataract surgery?

When Can I Have Sex After Cataract Surgery?

Many people are too shy to ask their surgeon when they can resume sex after cataract surgery. And if you're in an older age bracket, the doctor may (wrongly) assume it doesn't apply!

The most common advice is that you can resume "gentle" sexual relations one week after surgery. Unfortunately, there's no explanation of what that means!

Remember that for the first two weeks, you're only allowed to go walking or bowling. Are you more vigorous in the sack than that? Be honest, now! For the average active male, a two-week wait would be more realistic and much safer. However, the best solution is to pluck up the nerve to ask your own surgeon!

Housework and Gardening

With your newly acquired eyesight, you're probably horrified at the dust and debris you couldn't see before—but hold your horses!

  • Bending over at the waist (weeding, scrubbing floors) puts too much pressure on the eye, so you need to be patient and put up with it for a couple more weeks.
  • Garden soil is absolutely chockful of bacteria, so you need to stay well away from it.
  • You must not lift anything over 15 lbs for the first few weeks; someone else may have to take out the trash.
Don't mow the lawn after cataract surgery

Don't mow the lawn after cataract surgery

Protecting Your Eyes

It's not a good idea to mow the lawn after cataract surgery, because mowing sends so much debris and dust into the air. If you must, wear wraparound sunglasses or goggles to avoid any risk of grass blades, sticks, or soil blowing into your eye.

My husband used wrap around safety goggles made by TR Industrial. He sweats a lot and often complains that any safety goggles he wears fog up too quickly. These seem to keep clear during his yard work better than other brands he's used.

In fact, it's a good idea to wear sunglasses whenever you go outside. If you wore glasses before the op, you've probably forgotten how easy it is to get something in your eye on a windy day! Even a tiny speck of dirt or dust can be contaminated, so don't take chances.

Post-Surgery Symptoms: Gritty or Dry Eyes

It's normal for your eyes to feel scratchy or a little tender after surgery. You may feel as though you have debris or grit in your eye. You should only worry if your pain gets worse or if your vision starts deteriorating.

Another common symptom—which surgeons often don't tell you about—is "dry eye". Usually it's just a temporary reaction to the post-operative eye drops. If you have dry eye, you may feel itchiness or grittiness, or you may just have an odd sensation of tightness. It will help to avoid air-conditioning and keep off the PC; staring at a computer screen is a common cause of dry eye, even in people who haven't had surgery!

Treating Dry Eye

If it's severe, though, it can be painful, and it could even affect your vision. Don't panic: there are some very effective treatments available over-the-counter!

If you're still taking the post-op eye drops, don't take over-the-counter drops without asking your doctor first—they might interfere with the prescribed drops.

Once you've finished the prescribed drops, you'll probably find the dry eye gradually settles down over the next few months as your eye continues to heal. You can buy lubricating eye drops, which will help ease the dryness and help with healing (a properly lubricated eye heals faster than a dry one).

Ordinary eye drops for contact lenses, sore eyes, or redness aren't long-lasting enough. Look for products labelled specifically "for dry eye." A few people are sensitive to the preservatives in bottled eye drops; in that case, look for single-dose ampoules.

If you're still suffering from dry eye four or five months after the operation, you may be one of the unlucky ones for whom it's a result of the procedure. A visit to your surgeon is in order, but you will likely have to use the lubricating drops long-term.

Be a Patient Patient!

Cataract surgery may be a walk-in, walk-out surgery—but it's still surgery. It takes a couple of months for your eye to fully heal. Be patient with yourself and best wishes for your recovery!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: What causes the glow in the eyes of people with cataract surgery?

Answer: This is a very common issue after cataract surgery. Or, at least some people consider it an issue while others are not bothered at all by it.

The additional glow or light in the eyes that is often visible in the eyes of someone who had cataract surgery is a result of reflections of light from the acrylic material in the intra-ocular lens that is used. Many people are startled by the increased "shine" coming from their eyes, even in low light situations. Some have even likened it to animal eyes that glow in the dark.

Remember though that this increased reflection of light in the eye after cataract surgery is merely a function of the lens that was inserted and is purely cosmetic. It does not affect the vision of the person who had the surgery, but even so, some find themselves self-conscious about this change.

Many surgeons will not tell you that there is actually a choice in lenses that can be used and some will be less prone to this. If this is a concern of yours, make sure you ask your doctor ahead of time about your options in the type of lens that is used.

If you have already had cataract surgery and wish to fix this issue, the only option is to undergo another surgery to exchange lenses.

Question: When can I start wearing eye make up again after cataract surgery?

Answer: This depends on your specific situation, and you should get this answer from your doctor.