Cataract Surgery

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What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens.  The lens focuses light rays on the retina (the layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of the eye) to produce a sharp image of what we see.  When the lens becomes cloudy, light rays cannot pass through it easily and vision is blurred.

Normal Vision

The same view with simulated cataract (National Eye Institute)

What can I expect if I decide to have cataract surgery?

Before Surgery

To determine if your cataract should be removed, your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) will perform a thorough eye examination.  Before surgery, your eye will be measured to determine the proper power of the intraocular lens that will be placed in your eye.  Ask your ophthalmologist if you should continue taking your usual medications before surgery.  You should make arrangements to have someone drive you home after surgery.

The Day of Surgery

Surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis, either in a hospital or an ambulatory surgery center.  You may be asked to skip breakfast, depending on the time of your surgery.

When you arrive for surgery, you will be given eyedrops and perhaps a mild sedative to help make you comfortable.  A local anesthetic will numb your eye.  The skin around your eye will be thoroughly cleansed, and sterile coverings will be placed around your head.  You may see light and movement, but you will not be able to see the surgery while it is happening.

Under an operating microscope, a small incision is made in the eye.  In most cataract surgeries, tiny surgical instruments are used to break apart and remove the cloudy lens from the eye.  The back membrane of the lens (called the posterior capsule) is usually left in place.

A plastic, acrylic or silicone intraocular lens is implanted in the eye to replace the natural lens that was removed.

After surgery is completed, your doctor may place a shield over your eye.  After a short stay in the outpatient recovery area, you will be ready to go home.

Following Surgery

You will need to:

  • Use the eyedrops as prescribed;
  • Be careful not to rub or press on your eye;
  • Avoid strenuous activities until your ophthalmologist tells you to resume them;
  • Ask your doctor when you can begin driving;
  • Wear eyeglasses or an eye shield, as advised by your doctor.


You can continue most normal daily activities.  Over-the-counter pain medication may be used, if necessary.