Even the smoothest cataract surgery is not immune to an adverse event popping up during cataract surgery recovery. Adhering to good eye care after cataract surgery is the best way of minimising your risk of complications during the post-operative healing period. Complications and adverse effects can range from sight-threatening, such as a severe eye infection, to mild irritation, such as an allergic reaction to one of your medicated eye drops.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Australia. During the operation, your eye’s cloudy lens will be removed through an incision in the front surface of the eye. In its place will be inserted an artificial lens implant, known as an intraocular lens. This whole procedure is performed under a local or topical anaesthetic.
Although cataract surgery in Australia is considered very safe with a low risk of complications, there is always a small chance something can go wrong, whether with the surgery itself or during the recovery period. Factors that may increase your risk of a complication can include:
- Other pre-existing eye diseases, such as a retinal tear or detachment, or age-related macular degeneration
- A very mature or advanced cataract
- Systemic diseases, such as diabetes
- The use of certain medications, such as alpha-blockers
Immediately after your operation, you will be given guidelines on how to look after your eye as it heals and maximise your cataract surgery recovery. It’s important you follow these rules for eye care after cataract surgery. The specifics of your post-operative instructions may vary depending on your particular case or your cataract surgeon. If any instructions are unclear after your cataract surgery, be sure to ask your surgeon.
Eye Care After Cataract Surgery
These are some examples of general guidelines your cataract surgeon may give you for your cataract surgery recovery period.
Keep your operated eye clean and protected
After your cataract operation, your surgeon will apply a protective plastic shield over your eye. This is to prevent any accidental bumps or knocks but also importantly, to keep you from unconsciously rubbing or pressing on your eye during sleep. For this reason, you may be advised to keep the shield on overnight for the first week or so, in addition to wearing it during the day for the first day or two.
Try to keep from getting any foreign particles or substances into your eye as it’s healing. This includes makeup, facial cleaners, other soaps or shampoos, as well as dust, debris, and dirt. To achieve this, you may need to avoid certain environments or activities for a week or two, like going to the park on a windy day or cleaning the dusty house basement.
Unsterile water is also a source of infection, including the beach, the pool, and hot tubs. During your cataract surgery recovery period, your eyes are more vulnerable to infections, so it’s best to avoid any environments that have the potential to cause a problem.
Finish your medications and attend your review appointments
The purpose of your prescribed eye drop medications is to minimise harmful inflammation after the surgery and to prevent an opportunistic infection while your eyes are in a vulnerable state. A common mistake many people make is to stop using their drops as soon as their eye is feeling better. Ceasing your medications early can put you at risk of a flare-up of inflammation or sight-threatening infection, so it’s important to finish the course of drops as directed.
You’ll have a few follow-up appointments scheduled after your surgery to make sure your eye is healing and no subtle signs of a potential complication are beginning to appear. These appointments typically happen one day after your operation, one week later, and a month after that. In between these appointments, if you think something is not right with your vision or eye, contact your cataract surgeon immediately; don’t wait for your next appointment.
Watch out for red flags
Red flags are signs or symptoms that a sight-threatening complication is arising. It’s not uncommon to experience some mild discomfort immediately after cataract surgery. Patients typically report some degree of dryness or grittiness, and your eye will often look a little red or puffy. However, if you are experiencing any of the following, you should contact your ophthalmologist without delay. If you’re unable to get hold of them, visit your local optometrist or GP, or go to a hospital emergency.
Red flags include:
- Loss of vision, whether increasing blur or entire areas of black/grey in your visual field
- Any discharge from the eye
- Increasing redness of the whites (sclera)
- Increasing glare sensitivity
- Seeing floating specks/lines in your vision, or any sudden flashing lights
- Headaches or nausea
- Double or distorted vision
Post the Post-Op Period
Remember that even after your eyes have healed successfully from your operation, good eye care after cataract surgery doesn’t end there. While you may no longer need glasses or contact lenses thanks to your new intraocular lens, it’s still important to attend regular check-ups to maintain your eye health. If you experienced complications during your surgery or during the recovery period, your ophthalmologist may want to review you again after a certain time interval. Alternatively, if all went smoothly, you may be discharged from your ophthalmologist’s care and returned to the care of your local optometrist. Depending on your age and any other existing eye conditions, you may be recommended to attend a check-up every two years or more frequently.
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Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.