Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. It involves removing the damaged lens of the eye and replacing it with an artificial lens to restore vision.

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A cataract is a cloudy area that forms in the lens of a person’s eye. It can cause vision to become foggy or blurry.

This article discusses what to expect before, during, and after cataract surgery, alongside the risks and potential benefits of the procedure.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) provides the following guidelines for preparing for cataract surgery:

  • Visiting the eye doctor: About a week before surgery, an ophthalmologist will measure the size and shape of a person’s eye so that they can select an appropriately sized replacement lens. These artificial lenses are called intraocular lenses (IOLs).
  • Using special eye drops: An ophthalmologist may prescribe eye drops to help prevent eye infections.
  • Discussing medications: A person should inform their ophthalmologist if they take any medications or supplements, as certain types may cause bleeding during surgery.
  • Fasting before surgery: An ophthalmologist may ask a person not to eat or drink anything for at least 6 hours before surgery.
  • Cleaning eyelids and eyelashes: An ophthalmologist may ask a person to wash their eyelids and eyelashes with baby shampoo the night before and the morning of the surgery. This helps remove pathogens that may otherwise cause infection.

On the day of the surgery

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) notes that cataract surgeries can occur in a hospital or an outpatient surgery center.

Before surgery, a healthcare professional will explain the procedure and aftercare instructions.

A person should arrange transportation on the day of their surgery, as they cannot drive following the procedure.

Cataract surgery typically lasts around 1 hour.

People typically remain awake during the procedure and receive medications to numb pain.

According to the AAO, cataract surgery consists of the following:

  • Step 1: The surgeon numbs a person’s eye with eye drops or an injection around the eye. A person may also receive medication to help them relax.
  • Step 2:Using a special microscope as a guide, the surgeon makes small sutureless incisions near the edge of the cornea, which is the transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. These incisions allow the surgeon access to the lens of the eye. Once inside, doctors will open the clear membrane covering the front of the lens to expose the lens contents.
  • Step 3: If a person is having small-incision cataract surgery, the surgeon will use an ultrasound instrument to break up the cataractous lens into smaller fragments so that they can remove it using suction. If a person is having extracapsular surgery, the surgeon creates a larger corneal incision so that they can remove the lens’ contents in one piece.
  • Step 4: The surgeon replaces the lens with an IOL.

The incisions from cataract surgery generally heal on their own. A doctor will place a shield over the person’s eye to protect it while it recovers.

After surgery, a person will rest in a recovery area for 15⁠–30 minutes. They will then be able to go home.

A person’s eye may feel itchy, uncomfortable, or sensitive to light for 1–2 days after surgery.

In the weeks following the surgery, a person may need to avoid certain activities, such as:

  • touching, rubbing, or pressing the eye
  • getting soap or water in the eye
  • bending over
  • lifting heavy objects

A person should speak with a doctor immediately if they notice any of the following:

  • vision loss
  • very red eyes
  • severe pain that will not go away
  • floaters — small dark spots, threads, or wiggly lines that float across the vision

A person’s eye should be fully healed 8 weeks after cataract surgery.

Before undergoing cataract surgery, people should talk with an ophthalmologist about the risks and potential benefits. Some examples are as follows:


Some risks associated with cataract surgery include:


According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), cataract surgery improves vision in around 90% of cases.

Other potential benefits of cataract surgery include:

  • a reduced need for glasses, which may encourage some individuals to resume certain hobbies or activities
  • a reduced risk of injuries from falls
  • a reduced risk of dementia

Cataract surgery is one of the safest and most efficient surgeries in the United States. Around 90% of people who undergo cataract surgery experience improved vision.

A cataract cannot grow back following cataract surgery. However, a person can develop secondary cataracts in the weeks, months, or years following cataract surgery.

This happens when cells from the previous natural lens remain in a part of the eye called the posterior lens capsule (PLC), which now contains the artificial lens.

Over time, these cells accumulate, clouding the PLC and preventing light from reaching the retina.

Surgeons can typically correct secondary cataracts with a procedure called a posterior capsulotomy. This involves using a laser to clear an opening in the cloudy PLC, allowing light to pass through for clear vision.

Below are some common questions about cataract surgery.

What types of cataract surgery are there?

There are two types of cataract surgery. These are:

Small incision cataract surgery: This involves making small incisions around the edge of the cornea to insert an ultrasound probe. The ultrasound waves break up the cataractous lens so that microinstruments can suction it out of the eye.

Extracapsular surgery: This involves creating a larger incision around the edge of the cornea so that the surgeon can remove the cataractous lens contents in one piece.

Is cataract surgery painful?

According to the NEI, cataract surgery is almost painless. A person will be awake during the procedure, but the surgeon will numb the eye and may administer other medications to help them relax.

How long between surgery for each eye?

A person with cataracts in both eyes must have surgery on each eye separately. They will need to wait around a month between each procedure.

Can cataract surgery help with other vision issues?

Cataract removal can help doctors see into the back of the eye. As such, cataract surgery may help doctors monitor and treat other vision issues, such as those related to diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

What are the costs of the surgery?

Medicare reports that a person may spend $1,808–2,866 per eye for cataract surgery. However, costs will depend on various factors, such as who performs the surgery, location, and health insurance.

Generally, Medicare and most private insurance companies will cover the cost of cataract surgery. However, a person should check with their insurance provider to be sure. If a person has neither option, they may be able to discuss payment plans with a doctor.

Learn more about cataract surgery costs.

The treatment for cataracts is cataract surgery, which involves removing the cloudy natural lens and replacing it with an artificial lens implant to restore clear vision.

There are two types of cataract surgery: small incision and extracapsular.

The former involves making a series of small incisions around the cornea and using an ultrasound device to break up and remove the cloudy lens contents.

The latter involves using a larger incision to remove the cloudy lens contents in one piece. Generally, both types of surgery are almost painless.

Most people who undergo cataract surgery report improvements in their vision.

However, a person should discuss the potential risks and benefits with an ophthalmologist before deciding whether to undergo the procedure.