Taking certain steps to protect the eye and avoiding certain activities during recovery is important in allowing the eye to heal after cataract surgery. People need to avoid bending over to help reduce pressure on the eyes. They should also avoid violent sneezing or coughing if possible.

In most cases, the eye will completely heal within 8 weeks after cataract surgery. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it takes two stages for the eye to fully heal after cataract surgery.

In the first 24 hours after the procedure, the small incision on the surface of the eye begins to close up. In the few weeks after the procedure, the smooth barrier beneath the surface of the eye will heal.

In most cases, people can return to their everyday activities within a few days or weeks after cataract surgery. However, it may take up to 1 year for the eyes to return to feeling natural again.

This article looks at what people are able to do after cataract surgery, what they should avoid doing, and when to contact a doctor.

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After cataract surgery, it is important that people follow all instructions from a healthcare professional.

Individuals need to:

  • rest for 2–3 days after surgery
  • take painkillers, if necessary
  • use an eye shield at nighttime for at least 7 days
  • use any eye drops as a doctor instructs
  • continue taking medications as usual
  • bathe and shower as usual, though shower with a handheld showerhead to avoid getting soap in the eyes
  • use an eye shield or sunglasses when outside

People are able to watch television, read, or use a computer after cataract surgery. It is also possible for individuals to wear glasses if they are waiting for an eye test, even if they are the wrong prescription.

After cataract surgery, people will need to avoid:

  • rubbing or touching the eye
  • getting soap or shampoo in the eye
  • swimming for 4–6 weeks
  • strenuous activity or exercise
  • wearing makeup for 4 weeks
  • air travel without checking with a healthcare professional
  • driving without checking with a healthcare professional

Ophthalmologists also suggest that a person avoid applying warm compresses, lid scrubs, or other treatments for eye conditions for at least a week after the surgery.

It is also important to avoid bending over or putting the head lower than the waist in the first 48 hours after surgery, as this increases pressure on the eye. If possible, people should also avoid violent coughing or sneezing.

A surgeon will provide antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops after cataract surgery. These help reduce swelling in the eye.

People will need to follow specific instructions from a doctor on how to use these eye drops.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), unless a doctor instructs otherwise, a person should:

  • wash hands before using eye drops
  • start using the eye drops the morning after surgery and only on the affected eye
  • continue using eye drops until a doctor advises
  • avoid sharing eye drops with anyone else

People can check with a healthcare professional if it is safe to use any other eye drops for another condition, such as glaucoma.

People may be able to use lubricant eye drops, but only 5 minutes after using antibiotic or anti-inflammatory eye drops and only from a new, sterile bottle.

After cataract surgery, a doctor may place a protective shield over the eye to protect it during the healing process. People may need to wear this eye shield during sleep for a week after the procedure.

If people sleep on their side, they may find it easier to sleep on the side of the unaffected eye to reduce pressure on the healing eye.

People can bathe or shower the day after surgery but need to take care to avoid getting any water hitting the eye.

Individuals will need to avoid getting any water or soap into the eye. To avoid splashing or rubbing their eyes, people may find it easier to use a washcloth to clean the face. They also need to keep their eyes closed and avoid rubbing their eyes.

People may find the eye becomes sticky as it heals by using eye drops. To clean the eye after surgery and help prevent stickiness, individuals can take the following steps:

  1. Wash the hands with soap and water.
  2. Dip clean gauze or cotton wool into warm water.
  3. Gently wipe from the inner part of the eye, near the nose, to the outer corner of the eye.
  4. Avoid pressing on the eye or wiping inside the eye.
  5. Avoid washing the eye out with water.

People may choose to clean the eye twice a day for the first 2 weeks after surgery.

Eye specialists recommend a diet high in fiber, whole foods, leafy green vegetables, and lean protein, following cataract surgery.

Dark green leafy vegetables are a suitable source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which support good eye health.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, walnuts, and chia seeds, are suitable sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which may also support eye health.

Foods to avoid include foods or drinks high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, as these may spike blood sugar. This may have a negative effect on blood vessels in the eye and may slow down healing.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, a person should be able to go home the same day after surgery.

After the procedure, a person will wear a pad and a plastic shield over the eye, which they can be remove the following day.

A person can expect some feeling to return within a few hours after surgery. However, their vision can take a few days to return to normal.

A person can also expect the following side effects, which typically resolve within a few days to 4–6 weeks:

  • grittiness
  • blurred or double vision
  • bloodshot eyes
  • eye-watering

People will need to contact a doctor straight away if they experience any of the following after cataract surgery:

  • loss of vision
  • eye pain
  • increased redness of the eye
  • flashing lights
  • a dark curtain closing in on vision or floaters
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • excessive coughing

People will need to follow the advice of a healthcare professional after cataract surgery. This may include avoiding getting water into the eye, driving, or strenuous activities during the recovery period.

Using eye drops as a doctor advises, eating nutritious foods, and wearing a protective shield during sleep, may all help aid recovery.