What Happens in a Cataract Operation, Explained Simply

A cataract is a clouded lens inside the eye which causes disrupted vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. The only thing that can fix it is cataract surgery.

Here’s what happens in a cataract operation, plus tips on how to prepare for the procedure and ensuring your recovery is smooth.

What Happens During a Cataract Operation?

In the shortest terms, cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial clear lens (called an intraocular lens or an IOL).

It’s typically a day-case type of surgery, with no need to stay in hospital, and only takes between 10-15 minutes to complete. Most patients can return to work within a few days and have fully recovered within four to six weeks.

Modern cataract operations involve the use of high-frequency ultrasound, known as phacoemulsification or “phaco” for short.

You might be wondering if you feel anything.

Once you’ve had local anaesthetic administered (in other words, you’ll be awake but the area will be numbed so you honestly won’t feel a thing), a special handpiece will be used to deliver ultrasound.

This will break the cloudy lens up into very small fragments. These will be gently suctioned from the eye.

The surgeon will then insert an artificial lens into your eye.

This is a clear, plastic lens implant that has been specially made for your eye. It will be placed securely in the space left behind by your natural but cloudy lens.

The miniature incision will close up without stitches and you’ll be given a protective eye shield to protect your eyes while they’re healing.

You will also be prescribed eye drops to help reduce symptoms such as eye itchiness and grittiness.

As you can see, the entire procedure is quick, painless and very gentle.

The phaco (ultrasound) method is currently the preferred approach because it’s much more gentle and involves making much smaller incisions than previous methods.

This means healing and recovery times are much quicker and certain complications, such as retinal detachment, are much less likely to happen.

cataract operation

Cataract Surgery Preparation

In the lead-up to your cataract operation, your surgeon will perform a complete eye health assessment. This is to check the overall condition of your eyes, isolate risk factors and highlight any reasons for why you shouldn’t have the surgery.

A refraction, which is a measurement of any glasses prescription, will be performed to find out how short sighted, long-sighted or how much astigmatism you are/have.

An ultrasound scan will also be performed to measure the dimensions of your eye and a topography to measure the curvature of your cornea.

Your surgeon needs these measurements in order to choose which IOL implant is most appropriate for your eye.


Choosing the Right Lens for Your Cataract Operation

If you undertake private cataract surgery, you can choose which type of artificial lens will be implanted into your eye. There are three main choices:

  • Standard monofocal lens - the most basic choice. This means your lens will only be able to focus onto one point of vision. So, you may need glasses for either near or distance vision.
  • Monofocal lens with monovision - you will have two different lens - one in each eye. Each lens will be set to a different distance and this will help to correct vision.
  • Premium multifocal lens - these allow multiple points of vision, so help to reduce the need for glasses. The most common choice in private surgery.

As highlighted, your choice of lens depends on whether you’d like to wear glasses after your surgery.

If you don’t mind wearing reading glasses, standard monofocal will be used.

Your glasses will be prescribed approximately a month after your surgery (so that your eyes have time to settle down after the procedure).

If you’d rather not rely on glasses then monovision lens may help - as long as you have had cataract surgery on both eyes. If you have advanced presbyopia (long-sightedness), multifocal lenses can help.


What to Expect After a Cataract Operation

Many people wonder what to expect after cataract surgery. You may experience:

  • Redness or bloodshot eyes - this is due to the blood vessels on the surface of the whites of your eyes being temporarily damaged. This should clear up within a few days.
  • Bruising around the eyes - this is due to local anaesthetic being administered in the soft areas around your eyes. This should heal within a few days.
  • Distorted vision - as your eyes heal, your vision should correct itself. Your vision should stabilise within four weeks and you will need to go to an optician to get your new prescription. Depending on the IOL chosen, you may need to wear glasses.
  • Gritty, dry eyes - this is normal while your eyes heal. Keep using the eye drops prescribed to you by your surgeon and wear your eye shield at night.
  • Mild headaches and lights being unusually bright - as your vision stabilises, you may experience these two symptoms.


It’s Important to Find the Right Cataract Surgeon and Clinic

When it comes to surgical procedures involving the eye, it’s normal to be wary or nervous. Cataract surgery is a very safe and effective operation that can help to correct vision. The success rates are high and the chances of serious complications developing are rare.

However, to ensure that your operation and recovery process go smoothly, it’s important you choose the right cataract surgeon and clinic.


We’re also rated #1 on independent review site Trustpilot, with an unbeatable 9.9 out of 10 rating. That’s why we’re known in the industry as the most trusted laser eye surgery clinic in the UK.


Look for surgeons who are qualified, highly experienced and have excellent success rates. At Focus Clinic, our two surgeons are world-renowned specialists who have over 45 years of experience between them. Our centre is the only clinic in the UK with a 100 percent success rate.

We’re also rated #1 on independent review site Trustpilot, with an unbeatable 9.9 out of 10 rating. That’s why we’re known in the industry as the most trusted laser eye surgery clinic in the UK.

As well as this, we offer a unique range of aftercare services. For instance, most clinics offer a year’s guarantee. At Focus Clinic, we offer a 10-year guarantee package. This means if you ever need a follow-up treatment, it’ll be on us.


Want to Learn More About Cataract Surgery?

There’s more to cataract surgery than what we mentioned above. If you’re interested in reading more, check out this page here. Alternatively, you can download our comprehensive guide to cataract surgery below to learn everything about the procedure, from technological developments to success rates.

Patient Guide to Cataract Surgery by Focus Clinic CTA