Cataract surgery is a common and typically safe procedure. However, like all surgeries, it may cause some complications. This includes dry eye, which happens when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or if the tears on the surface of your eye evaporate too quickly.

It’s common to have dry eyes after cataract surgery. For example, in a 2019 study, 42 percent of participants who had cataract surgery developed dry eye symptoms.

A 2017 study on 433 people found that dry eye was a side effect after 55.7 percent of cataract surgeries.

Generally, post-cataract surgery dry eye is temporary. Still, it can be uncomfortable, as it often causes symptoms like eye irritation and blurry vision.

Read on to learn why dry eye develops after cataract surgery, along with remedies and treatments for relieving this condition.

There are several reasons why dry eye often develops after cataract surgery.

The main reason involves the tear film on your eyes. The tear film is a layer of liquid that covers the surface of your eye. It’s made of three layers, including an outer lipid layer.

The lipid layer works to stabilize the tear film. This stops tears from evaporating, which keeps the eye surface smooth and lubricated.

Cataract surgery can make the lipid layer thinner. As a result, the tear film becomes unstable, resulting in dry eyes.

Dry eyes after cataract surgery may also be related to:

  • Corneal nerve damage. Corneal nerves are involved in tear production. If the surgery damages a corneal nerve, it may lead to reduced blinking and tear production, resulting in dryness.
  • Light exposure. During cataract surgery, your surgeon will use a microscope that has a bright light. The light may reduce goblet cells in your eyes, which are responsible for lubricating the eye.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation is a normal response after you’ve had surgery, including cataract surgery. In this case, inflammation in your eye could decrease tear production.
  • Medicated eye drops. After surgery, you’ll likely need to use medicated eye drops to manage pain and swelling. The pain relievers, corticosteroids, and preservatives in these eye drops might slow down healing, which can worsen dry eye.
How long does it last?

In general, eye dryness is usually worse during the first week after surgery. According to a 2020 study, it typically improves about a month after surgery.

Additionally, if you already had dry eyes before surgery, the procedure could worsen your symptoms.

Other risk factors that may increase your risk of dry eyes after cataract surgery include:

  • being older
  • having underlying medical conditions
  • using certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), after surgery

Dry eyes can happen when your eyes don’t produce enough tears. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • eye pain
  • a sensation of burning in the eyes
  • increased eye sensitivity to wind and light
  • feeling like something is in your eye
  • blurry vision

If you have a mild case of dry eye, there are home remedies that may improve your symptoms.

Dry eye remedies

  • Artificial tears. Artificial tears are eye drops that lubricate your eyes. You can get them at the drugstore without a prescription.
  • Sunglasses. Wearing sunglasses outside will protect your eyes from the sun and wind, which can worsen dry eyes.
  • Blinking often. Try to blink often, especially when you’re looking at computer screens or reading. This can help keep your eyes lubricated.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen your symptoms, so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Use a humidifier. Dry air can contribute to dry eyes. A humidifier, which adds humidity to the air, can help reduce dry indoor conditions.
  • Nutritional supplements. Ask a doctor about supplements for dry eyes. Some nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, may help ease inflammation in the eye.
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If you develop severe dry eye symptoms after cataract surgery, you may require medical treatment. Based on your symptoms and level of eye dryness, an eye doctor may prescribe the following treatments:

  • Cyclosporine eye drops. Cyclosporine may help reduce inflammation in the eye’s surface after cataract surgery.
  • Lifitegrast eye drops. Lifitegrast can also help minimize inflammation. It’s used for severe cases of dry eye.
  • Punctal plugs. Punctal plugs are inserted into your tear ducts to stop tear drainage.

It’s important to remember that prescription dry eye medication may take weeks or months to work. So, you’ll still need to continue artificial tears when you begin taking prescription medication.

After cataract surgery, you’ll typically have regular checkups with an eye doctor. These checkups will allow the doctor to monitor your progress and look for signs of complications.

Make an appointment to see an eye doctor in between your regular checkups if you experience:

  • worsening eye dryness
  • severe pain
  • vision changes
  • signs of an eye infection, such as redness
  • a severe itchy or gritty sensation
  • swelling in the eye that doesn’t go away or gets worse

It’s common to develop dry eyes after cataract surgery. The reason for this is because the procedure can disrupt the tear film, which lubricates the surface of your eye. Cataract surgery may also cause inflammation and nerve damage, which can worsen your symptoms.

Typically, dry eye due to cataract surgery is temporary. The symptoms of dry eye are often worse during the first week and then improve within a month of the surgery. But if your dry eyes persist, or if your vision changes, be sure to follow up with an eye doctor.