Recovering from cataract surgery: what you need to know

Cataract surgery

Having cataract surgery can give you back your vision – and your freedom. Here’s what to expect after the operation.

Cataract surgery is used to treat cloudy or blurry vision caused by a cataract. A cataract is a change to the natural lens in the eye, and it’s usually due to ageing1. Most people with a cataract choose to have surgery to improve their vision. As it’s a simple operation, the recovery process is usually quick and straightforward. Here’s what you need to know.

Cataract surgery: in brief

A cataract operation is usually done under local anaesthetic and takes around half an hour. The surgeon removes the lens which is affected by the cataract and replaces it with an artificial lens, held in place by the same bag that originally held the natural lens2. If you have cataracts in both eyes, you’ll have two operations a few weeks apart.

After the operation

Once your cataract surgery is done, you’ll be able to go home within a few hours1. There’s no need to stay in hospital overnight. Because there’s no need for general anaesthetic you should feel fine after your operation, with no feelings of grogginess. You will probably have a pad and plastic shield over your eye to protect it, which means you should arrange for someone to collect you from hospital and take you home1. Your eye will feel numb because of the local anaesthetic, but within a few hours of surgery the feeling will gradually start to return1.

The first week

Cataract surgery

You should take it easy for the first few days after your operation. You will probably be advised to remove the pad and plastic shield covering your eye on the day after surgery. However, it’s a good idea to wear it at night to make sure you don’t touch or rub your eye in your sleep. If you were given eye drops or any other kind of medication before you left hospital, make sure you use them how you were instructed1

It might take a couple of days for your vision to come back fully, and some people find it helpful to have someone to help take care of them for this time. Cataract surgery also has some mild side effects which are totally normal and should subside within a few days. You might experience:

  • Mild pain in or around your eye 
  • A feeling of itchiness, stickiness or grittiness in your eye 
  • Blurry vision 
  • Headaches 
  • Discomfort if you look at a bright light 
  • Bruised skin around your eye1
To help manage pain, you can take any over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can also try wearing sunglasses to reduce the short-term discomfort caused by looking at bright light1.

Getting back to normal life

Your surgeon will give you detailed information about what you can and cannot do in the days and weeks following your operation. However, you should be up and about like normal with a pretty short list of activities to avoid.

Most people can… 

  • Bathe, shower, and wash their face and hair straight away 
  • Read and watch television straight away 
  • Return to work within a few days (unless your job involves strenuous activities, or exposing your eyes to liquid or dust)1
You need to avoid…
  • Strenuous activities, such as lifting heavy objects 
  • Bending down with your head lower than waist level 
  • Touching, rubbing or knocking your eye 
  • Wearing eye makeup (for at least a week) 
  • Swimming (for two to four weeks) 
  • Sports in which your eye could be knocked (for two to four weeks)


If you have cataracts in both eyes, or a cataract in one eye and another condition affecting the other eye, you need to tell the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority)3. However, if you have a cataract in one eye but the other eye is fine, you don’t need to tell the DVLA. You will need to have your eyesight checked after surgery, to make sure you’re ready to get back out onto the road4.

Around 90% of people who have cataract operations will return to driving at some point, as long as they don’t have any other conditions which affect their vision. You can return to driving as soon as you can read a number plate 20 metres away with both eyes open. Some people are back on the road the day after their operation, while some people need up to four weeks to get their vision back fully3.

You can find out more about cataracts in our consultant Q&A and read about how cataract surgery works on our website.

To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 or
make an online enquiry.



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