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If you’re wondering what’s involved in cataract surgery, you’re not alone! Surgery of any kind can feel intimidating, and our goal is to make you as comfortable and confident with the entire experience as possible.  In this post, we aim to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the cataract surgery procedure, recovery time, cost and any possible side effects or complications.

What happens before cataract surgery

The first step is an eye evaluation with your cataract surgeon. The doctor examines your eyes and talks with you about your vision, lifestyle and what kind of vision you hope to achieve after surgery. This evaluation takes about an hour.

The next step involves capturing pre-surgical measurements which help you and your surgeon determine which type and power of lens implant to use for your cataract surgery.  In addition to the standard pre-surgical measurements, we recommend two advanced pre-surgical tests which help your doctor detect subtle conditions that cannot always be seen during a regular eye exam. The additional information offered by these advanced tests allows you and your surgeon to create a more customized surgery plan.

Learn about when to have cataract surgery

Advanced testing before cataract surgery

Corneal topography — Also called “custom corneal mapping,” this test creates a digital map of your cornea. The cornea is the clear tissue covering the front of your eye. The map shows astigmatism and other irregularities your doctor cannot see with an exam alone. If you had vision correction surgery such as LASIK, you must have this test before a lens implant can be selected.

Macular OCT — This imaging test shows the part of your eye that is responsible for sharp central vision. Before cataract surgery, it can be difficult to evaluate this part of the eye because the cataract can block or distort the doctor’s view into your eye. Like corneal topography, this test helps your surgeon identify any potential problems before surgery.

Your surgeon, along with a Surgery Coordinator, will counsel you on what to expect before, on the day of, and following surgery. Medication instructions, activity limitations, and the main points of each phase of the surgery process will be outlined for you.  You will also be given some patient education materials to help prepare you for your surgery.

Your timeline before cataract surgery

You need . . . When?
Appointment with your cataract surgeonTypically 4 to 8 weeks before surgery
Pre-surgical measurementsTypically 2 to 6 weeks before surgery, often at same time as cataract surgeon appointment
Appointment with primary doctor or other health care provider to make sure you are healthy enough for surgeryWithin 30 days before surgery
Check with insurance about coverage of surgical feesPreferably 2 weeks or more before surgery

What happens during the cataract surgery procedure?

Cataract surgery is done on one eye at a time. So if you have cataracts in both eyes, the procedures will likely be schedule several weeks apart. Plan to spend two to three hours at the surgery center on the day of your cataract surgery procedure. Have someone come with you to drive you home. You will not be permitted to drive yourself home or take public transportation after surgery.

The cataract surgery itself takes about 15 minutes, but you will be in the surgery suite for about 30 minutes. First, your anesthesiologist gives you a sedative to make you feel sleepy and relaxed. Then your doctor places numbing drops in your eye and will then gently place a special device on your eyelids to prevent you from blinking during the surgery.

To remove the cataract, your surgeon makes a tiny incision at the side of the eye, uses a small ultrasound instrument to break up and remove the cataract and then puts your new lens implant in place. Your eye is covered with a protective shield, and you rest in the recovery room while we help you prepare to go home.

You can have a snack and something to drink while we review instructions for taking care of yourself following cataract surgery. It is important to review this information with you and the person who will be driving you home after surgery.

Learn more about the cataract surgery procedure

Your timeline after cataract surgery

Plan to go home and rest after surgery. You can read or watch TV if you like, but be sure to follow your instructions and use your eye drops exactly as you were told.

You need . . . When?
Appointment with your eye care provider
  • 1 day after surgery
  • 1-3 weeks after surgery

Cataract surgery recovery time

Many people see better immediately after cataract surgery, but everyone heals differently. It will often take a few days or weeks to fully appreciate your improved vision.

Your doctor will probably allow you to drive after your eye appointment the next day, it depends on how your vision measures and whether or not you feel comfortable to drive. It’s best to have someone drive you on your first follow-up visit.

Many patients will still need prescription glasses after cataract surgery. It is important that your vision is stable following surgery before you update your glasses. It can take anywhere from a week to a month, though sometimes longer, until your vision has stabilized. In the meantime, you can explore options with our Sight Shop staff so you are seeing as best as is possible during this transitional period.

Learn more about what to expect after cataract surgery

Are there cataract surgery complications I should know about?

Cataract surgery complications are rare, but they occasionally happen. More serious risks include infection, swelling and retinal detachment. The retina is the tissue at the back of the eye. Less serious risks include a drooping eyelid, dry eye or eye irritation. Your surgeon will counsel you on the risks associated with surgery and will help answer any questions that you have as they arise.

Though it’s not considered a complication, some people develop a condition called a “secondary cataract” or “after cataract clouding.” This happens when the capsule that holds your lens becomes cloudy. Patients that experience this often remark that it feels like the cataract has “grown back” due to the similarity of the effect on their vision. If this condition does occur, your doctor can treat it with a quick and simple laser procedure.

How can I learn what my cataract surgery will cost?

Cataract surgery cost varies depending on your medical needs and the options you choose. For example, when cataract surgery is medically necessary private insurance and Medicare generally contribute to or cover the cost of a standard cataract surgery. However, if you choose a lens that corrects your vision, such as a toric lens for astigmatism or a multifocal lens that reduces your need for glasses, most insurance companies consider this to be an elective upgrade. If you opted for a lens upgrade, you would be required to pay the extra cost because these lenses are considered optional.

Oregon Eye Specialists handles any referrals and prior authorizations you might need before surgery. Just because a surgery is considered medically necessary, doesn’t mean that your insurance plan will pay for 100% of the associated fees. We strongly recommend you contact your insurance company directly to learn your out-of-pocket cataract surgery cost, because every plan is different.

We now accept two convenient plans offered by CareCredit at Oregon Eye Specialists. You may be able to use CareCredit for expenses your insurance or Medicare does not cover. You can also use a flexible spending account if you have one, or simply pay out of pocket if that is the most convenient option.

Learn about insurance and payments at Oregon Eye Specialists

Contact us about cataract surgery

Oregon Eye Specialists has some of the Northwest’s most experienced cataract surgeons and caring staff. If you think you might need cataract surgery or want to learn more about the procedure, please contact us. Oregon Eye Specialists has 10 conveniently located clinics and is always accepting new patients. Call 503-935-5580 or request an appointment online today.

Learn more about cataract surgery

About the Cataract Surgery Procedure

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