What to Expect After Cataract Surgery
If you've just had cataract surgery, you may be feeling a little confused. These days it's a walk-in, walk-out procedure, and you may go straight back to work next day. On the other hand, you've probably been given a leaflet telling you to take a whole range of precautions for the next several days, weeks, or even months.
So, should you treat yourself with kid gloves or not?
It's understandable doctors want to downplay the risks of cataract surgery. Why make patients needlessly anxious—when most people sail through with no complications? However, you only have one set of eyes, so it's important to know what you can and can't do, and what's worth worrying about.
Take It Easy!
After cataract surgery, your eye may feel gritty or sore, but otherwise you'll feel your normal self - with the bonus that the world suddenly looks bright and sparkling! - so it's tempting to think you can plunge straight back into normal life.
Don't! You've just undergone incredibly delicate eye surgery. Even though you can't see it, and may not be able to feel it, you now have a wound in your eye that needs to heal. You may have tiny stitches - you don't want them to burst! The new lens isn't securely embedded in place yet, and you don't want it to be jolted out of position (because that will leave you with blurry vision forever), and you don't want to do anything that might cause swelling or bleeding behind the eye.
Although it takes a couple of months for your eye to fully heal, it's in the first week or two that you have to be most careful.
Don't Get Your Head Wet!
Precautions for Showering and Bathing
Bacteria are everywhere in our lives. If you're healthy, that's not a problem - but if you have a wound, bacteria can enter and cause an infection. Although it's been carefully made and carefully stitched, the incision in your eye is still a wound, so you need to avoid anything that might harbour harmful bacteria.
Even clean water may contain bacteria - or it can wash bacteria from your skin into your eye. Keep your face out of the shower for the first week - not just to avoid getting water in your eyes, but also to avoid any need to rub or press on them (think about it - what's the first thing you do after you've dunked your face under water?).
You can use baby wipes or make-up wipes to clean your face until you're allowed to put your head under the shower.
Of course, that means you also can't wash your hair. Most surgeons recommend you don't wash your hair at all for the first two or three days, and after that they'll only allow you to wash it with your head tilted backwards, so the water runs away from your face. If that's a problem at home, you may need to go to a hairdresser's.
It also means absolutely no swimming and especially no hot tubs for the first two weeks. Swimming pools and spas are loaded with bacteria - that's why they have to be constantly dosed with chlorine and other chemicals. The hotter the water, the more likely there are bacteria in the water and you cannot afford to get them anywhere near your eye! Contamination in seawater is also commonplace, so sea bathing is out of the question too.
When Can I Go Back to the Gym?
Although a few doctors say you can go straight back to normal after surgery, most surgeons recommend NO exertion for the first week. That includes any kind of exercise, including all sports, no matter how gentle.
After a week, you can start gentle activity such as walking or lawn bowls.
You must wait at least two weeks before restarting any vigorous exercise such as aerobics, contact sports or weight training.
If you're an exercise nut or a keen sportsman, you may be tempted to ignore these restrictions - however, isn't it better to miss out on a couple of weeks' exercise than risk your sight? Think about the impact of your foot on the pavement when you run, and how that jarring transmits through your body to your eye. Imagine the feeling of pressure in your body when you lift a heavy weight - that transmits to your eye, too.
More importantly, if you work in a job that involves physical exertion - even if it's baby-sitting the grandkids - let your surgeon know. Because most cataract patients are retired, doctors often forget to ask what you do for a living. Even if they know you're working, they may assume an older person isn't doing a physically demanding job. That's why one grandma didn't know that picking up her hefty young grandson would tear her stitches and require another operation!
If your work involves lifting heavy objects, digging, or any other physical activity, you may have to take one or two weeks' sick leave, or request light duties, for the two weeks after your op.
When Can I Have Sex After Cataract Surgery?
Many people are too shy to ask their surgeon about when they can resume sex after cataract surgery. And if you're in an older age bracket, the doctor may (wrongly) assume it doesn't apply!
The most common advice is that you can resume "gentle" sexual relations one week after surgery. Unfortunately,there's no explanation of what that means!
Remember that for the first two weeks, you're only allowed to go walking or bowling. Are you more vigorous in the sack than that? Be honest, now! For the average active male, a two week wait would be more realistic and much safer. However, the best solution is to pluck up the nerve to ask your own surgeon!
Housework and Gardening: Protecting Your Eyes
With your newly acquired eyesight, you're probably horrified at the dust and debris you couldn't see before - but hold your horses!
- Bending over at the waist (weeding, scrubbing floors) puts too much pressure on the eye, so you need to be patient and put up with it for a couple more weeks.
- Garden soil is absolutely chockful of bacteria, so you need to stay well away from it.
- You mustn't lift anything over 15 lbs for the first few weeks - so someone else may have to take out the trash.
It's not a good idea to mow the lawn after cataract surgery, because mowing sends so much debris and dust into the air - but if you must, wear wraparound sunglasses to avoid any risk of grass blades or soil blowing into your eye.
In fact, it's a good idea to wear sunglasses whenever you go outside. If you wore glasses before the op, you've probably forgotten how easy it is to get something in your eye on a windy day! Even a tiny speck of dirt or dust can be contaminated, so don't take chances.
Post-Surgery Symptoms: Gritty or Dry Eyes
It's normal for your eyes to feel scratchy or a little tender after surgery. You may feel as though you have debris or grit in your eye. You should only worry if your pain gets worse or if your vision starts deteriorating.
Another common symptom—which surgeons often don't tell you about—is "dry eye". Usually it's just a temporary reaction to the post-operative eye drops. If you have dry eye, you may feel itchiness or grittiness, or you may just have an odd sensation of tightness. It will help to avoid air-conditioning and keep off the PC—staring at a computer screen is a common cause of dry eye, even in people who haven't had surgery!
If it's severe, though, it can be painful and it could even affect your vision. Don't panic, there are some very effective treatments available over-the-counter!
If you're still taking the post-op eye drops, don't take over-the-counter drops without asking your doctor first—they might interfere with the prescribed drops.
Once you've finished the prescribed drops, you'll probably find the dry eye gradually settles down over the next few months, as your eye continues to heal. You can buy lubricating eye drops which will help ease the dryness and help healing (a properly lubricated eye heals faster than a dry one). If the problem is really intense, the Tranquileyes eye bath is worth trying.
Ordinary eye drops for contact lenses, sore eyes or redness aren't long-lasting enough - look for products labelled specifically "for dry eye". A few people are sensitive to the preservatives in bottled eye drops - in that case, look for single dose ampoules.
If you're still suffering from dry eye four or five months after the operation, you may be one of the unlucky ones for whom it's a result of the procedure. A visit to your surgeon is in order, but it's likely that you will have to use the lubricating drops long-term.
Don't waste your time with ordinary eye drops - they won't help at all. Instead, look for drops designed specifically for "dry eye". We found this cream a soothing option for night time use
Be a Patient Patient!
Cataract surgery may be a walk-in, walk-out surgery BUT it's still surgery, and it takes a couple of months for your eye to fully heal. Be patient with yourself and best wishes for your recovery!
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