What’s cataract surgery like? Walk a mile in the shoes of a patient.


If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cataracts, you may be wondering what’s involved in surgery. This post looks at the seven stages of what actually happens – from the diagnosis and initial consultation right through to the day of surgery, the eye drops you’ll need to use as well as the recovery time. 

1. Diagnosis and Referral

The first step is being diagnosed with cataracts. If you are over 65, chances are you will have experienced some of the symptoms of cataract surgery; blurry vision – even with glasses, frequent changes in your glasses prescription and glare are all common symptoms. Your optometrist is usually the one to make the diagnosis and, if the symptoms are starting to interfere with your lifestyle, they will refer you to a surgeon to discuss having a procedure to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a tiny artificial lens called an intraocular lens (IOL). There is no need to rush this stage, as this is a disease that usually progresses slowly and is completely treatable with surgery.

2. The initial consultation

Talking face to face with a surgeon is the best way to inform yourself fully about your cataract procedure. Once they have the results of all the tests, they can explain several things:

  • Whether you need cataract surgery yet, or should wait another 6-12 months (or longer): One of the main criteria for having surgery is that your symptoms are impacting on your quality of life. Even with clinically significant cataract, there is no rush to operate if you are coping just fine with your vision. A lot depends on your age and occupation; a 55 year old airline pilot will be more critical of even a small deterioration in vision compared to a retired 80 year old who doesn’t drive much.
  • What sort of result you can expect in terms of spectacle independence: One of the big bonuses of having a procedure is that you have the opportunity to correct your glasses prescription and eliminate or greatly reduce your dependence on distance glasses – and maybe even reading glasses too. Many people have little need for glasses for distance or intermediate tasks after surgery, and only use them for reading small print.
  • What sort of intraocular lens (IOL) will give you the best results: Monofocal IOLs allow crisp vision at a particular distance – be that far, intermediate or near. But trifocal IOLs are also an option for some patients. These allow you to see at all distances without glasses in exchange for some compromise in the crispness of your vision, particularly in low light.

During the consultation you will also have the opportunity to ask your surgeon all your own questions.

3. Getting an accurate quote

At the end of the consultation, a detailed surgery quote will be prepared for you, which includes the rebates from Medicare and your health fund and takes into consideration the excess on your health fund as well as the IOL the surgeon has recommended for you.

4. Additional tests

Depending on the centre, you may need to return for further tests before going ahead with surgery.  Precise measurements of the eye are made and other tests will look for signs of dry eyes. This needs to be managed before surgery can proceed.

5. Making a booking

Once any dry eye issue is under control and these tests are complete, it’s time to make a booking.  If you are having both eyes done, they are usually scheduled 1-2 weeks apart (one week apart at our practice). If you are travelling to Sydney for your procedure, it is often possible to have the two eye operations on consecutive days, depending on the surgeon’s schedule.

6. The day of surgery

  • Cataract surgery is a day-surgery procedure and can be carried out in a hospital or accredited day surgery.
  • You will need to bring someone with you – not only for emotional support, but also to take you home.
  • You will be given a surgical hat and boots and have several eye drops instilled in your eyes prior to surgery.
  • You will be sedated gently for the procedure. This is not a general anaesthetic, but most patients remember very little of the surgery itself.
  • Your eyes are completely numbed with anaesthetic eye drops so you shouldn’t feel any pain.
  • The procedure itself only takes less than ten minutes per eye, although you will need to be at the day surgery for about 3hours.
  • After surgery, your eye is covered with a protective shield and you are brought to a recovery area for refreshments until you are ready to be discharged.
  • You will be given all the eye drops and oral medications you need.

7. Your recovery

The morning after surgery is usually the time for your post-operative check up with the surgeon to ensure everything has gone according to plan.

  • You can expect a little scratchiness overnight, but recovery is usually very quick and the eye shield will be removed at your post-operative visit.
  • Vision is often much improved from the day after surgery, but continues to improve for the following weeks as the eye heals.
  • It is important to follow the post-operative instructions relating to eye drops and activities to avoid.
  • Should you need to have reading glasses prescribed after surgery, it is best to wait 4 weeks to ensure healing is complete.