What To Expect During Recovery From Cataract Surgery Skip to main content

March 23, 2023

By: Joseph Matz, MD

What To Know About Recovery From Cataract Surgery

Eye Doctor conducting eye exam

Cataract surgery will lead to remarkable improvements in the eyes. But sometimes not immediately. While a lot will happen right away, there is still a decent chunk of vision that requires adjusting to. Vision can initially appear somewhat worse after cataract surgery! 

After replacing the cataract with an artificial lens, the brain receives a different picture. Although that picture may be clearer, the brain still has to adjust to the new vision. This adjustment process, called visual neuroadaptation. This allows for continued improvement in vision months out after cataract surgery. All that is required is continuous exposure or training of our eyes after surgery.

Initial Recovery After Cataract Surgery

Don’t expect your vision to be 100% immediately after cataract surgery as it takes time for the vision to heal. Your vision can be blurry the first day or two after cataract surgery from dilation of the eyes, swelling and generalized irritation from the surgery. After that, your vision can be blurry from residual prescription error, dryness and other causes. Once all those other causes of blurred vision are addressed, it is still possible to initially have vision that doesn’t feel quite as sharp as it is supposed to. This is what requires adjusting to.

Change In Vision

Ever get a change in a pair of glasses and your vision doesn’t feel quite as sharp initially; and then gradually over the course of a few weeks, things settle down? You’re experiencing changes in how the brain processes your vision. This is magnified after cataract surgery.

Leading up to cataract surgery, the brain has adjusted to quite a bit. It has reduced the subtle distortions in your cornea and lens and also tried to adjust to the cataract. It automatically applies these corrections to your vision without you realizing it.

But after surgery, the cataract is removed and replaced with a new artificial lens. Not only is this lens perfectly clear, in many cases it will also actually cancel out the subtle distortions from the cornea.

After cataract surgery, the image that makes its way to the retina can be clearer than ever before!

The problem is that the brain is still automatically processing out distortions that don’t exist anymore. This takes the clear image on the retina and makes us interpret it not quite as sharp. Although the cataract is gone, everything is brighter and more colorful and in many cases much clearer, things can still appear a little blurry because the brain hasn’t adjusted.

Fortunately, the brain gradually adapts. This is called visual neuroadaptation.

How Visual Neuroadaptation Works

After cataract surgery you have a brand new vision transmitted to the brain. But initially the brain may have some trouble processing and interpreting the vision due to the reasons described above. And of course, this is further complicated by the extra halos and glare with advanced lenses or monovision.

This can make things harder to see.

In fact, we are more acutely aware that things are difficult to see. The parts of our brain involved with attention are very active with this new visual information. We must focus harder to try to make out details that came easily before cataract surgery.

As we work to do a task, it becomes easier and easier. This is the same way with vision. As we work to see things, we begin to see them clearer over time until eventually we no longer have to work to see those things. 

By 6 months out after surgery, patients were able to see things that initially the glare from the lens prevented them from seeing. These patients adapted to the halos and glare and their vision improved. As these patients adapted, the parts of the brain involved in attention became less active as these patients no longer had to work to be able to see things.

“Training” In Own Environment

Our own environment provides the definitive training ground for our eyes. After-all, the primary goal is to see things clearly in our own environment. The subtle difficulties you have seeing in your own environment are continuously working your brain and your vision. Simply using your eyes throughout the day provides enough exposure for our brain to learn. Having trouble with halos around light at nighttime? Forcing yourself to see through these halos works the brain to sharpen up the vision over time. Using your eyes in your own environment tailors the training to exactly what you need to see.

Whether you work out your eyes just by living, by focusing on certain environments or by using a training program, the more the eyes are worked after cataract surgery, the more your vision can improve.

Next Steps

Training your eyes really can improve your vision after cataract surgery. You don’t realize that you are constantly training your eyes all the time in your own environment. As you work to see things, your brain becomes stronger at processing your vision and vision becomes more natural. This process continues to occur months out from cataract surgery.