If you have cataracts in both eyes, your eye doctor will decide which eye to correct first with surgery. Typically, you’ll need to wait between 1 week and 1 month before you can get cataract surgery in the other eye.

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A cataract is a cloudy area that forms over time and covers the clear lens of your eye. Changes in lens water content, pigment accumulation, and transformed lens epithelial cells all contribute to cataract development.

Cataracts are a natural part of aging, but they can happen to younger people, too. Eventually, cataracts require surgical treatment to preserve your vision.

Cataract surgery has a very high success rate: 95% of people see an improvement in their vision upon recovery.

People with cataracts in both eyes will need to undergo separate procedures in each eye. It is not standard practice to get cataract surgery in both eyes, also known as bilateral cataract surgery, at once.

Learn more about cataracts.

If you have cataracts in both eyes, one eye will typically be worse than the other. Your doctor will determine which eye to address first rather than doing both surgeries on the same day.

After the first cataract surgery, you’ll need to wait approximately a month before getting cataracts removed from your other eye, according to the National Eye Institute. This is meant to ensure that you always have some level of vision, as well as for your doctor to observe your eye as it recovers from the procedure.

Some people can wait years before the second eye surgery, so the waiting time will depend on how much your cataracts are currently affecting your vision.

It takes up to 8 weeks for your eye to fully heal from cataract surgery.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll have impaired vision the entire time you are healing. You’ll be able to return home on the day of your surgery while wearing a protective pad or bandage against your eye for the first day. After a day or two, the pain and discomfort should start to go away.

You might need to wear a protective eye shield for the next few days and avoid strenuous exercise and touching your eye for at least a week.

You’ll also want to avoid driving, using contact lenses, and wearing eye makeup until you get the all-clear from your doctor. In addition, you’ll need to clean your eye with special drops for the first few weeks to prevent infection.

After the surgery, you’ll need an eye exam to see if it was effective at improving your vision. You might also be given a new prescription for glasses.

The risk of complications from cataract surgery is low. However, any surgical procedure presents some risks. Possible complications from cataract surgery include:

Cataract surgery has many established benefits. Getting this corrective procedure can help you see more clearly — potentially lowering your fall risk, helping you better recognize friends and loved ones, and more.

There is not a lot of research analyzing people who get cataract surgery in both eyes versus those who get the surgery in only one eye. However, the odds of having your vision improve from having either surgery are about the same: 9 out of 10 people experience an improvement in their vision.

If you need to get cataract surgery in both eyes within the same year, try to schedule them as close together as your eye doctor will allow. A 2021 study of 585,422 people in Taiwan indicated that having surgery for both eyes within 3 months appeared to have a mental health benefit.

People who have had cataract surgeries in both eyes might also have a lower fall risk, according to a 2022 study of people in Australia.

Why can’t you have cataract surgery in both eyes at once?

In the immediate hours of recovering from cataract surgery, you’ll need to keep the affected eye covered. By scheduling the surgeries several weeks apart, you’ll have vision out of one eye.

A rare but serious risk of having cataract surgery in both eyes at the same time is the possibility of infection in both eyes. Infection during routine cataract surgery, called endophthalmitis, is uncommon. However, during bilateral cataract surgery, there is a risk of infection spreading to the other eye.

Endophthalmitis can lead to serious complications. However, it is preventable by undergoing cataract surgery on each eye at different times.

Can you see after cataract surgery?

For the first few hours after surgery, you might experience blurry vision in the operated eye. Your vision will gradually come back in the hours and days afterward.

For 95% of people, vision will be clearer once the eye has completely healed from cataract surgery.

Do you always need cataract surgery in both eyes?

No. Cataracts often progress slowly or at an uneven rate. Your eye doctor might detect them early on, or you might not notice them until your vision becomes cloudy and affects your life.

You might need to have cataract surgery in one eye years before the vision in your other eye becomes an issue. Some people who get one cataract surgery find that their vision improves so much that they don’t need to undergo surgery in the other eye.

Doctors typically avoid performing bilateral cataract surgery at the same time for two reasons: to prevent the risk of an eye infection and to make sure you can see out of one eye during recovery.

Although the risk of a severe eye infection is low during cataract surgery, it can happen. Performing cataract surgery at different types reduces the risk of the infection spreading to the other eye.

In addition, your vision in the operated eye will be blurry temporarily after surgery. Having separation surgeries means you’ll be able to see out of the other eye during recovery. This can help reduce your discomfort and the risk of possible complications, such as falls or other injuries.

Work with your doctor to determine the timeline for your cataract surgery. The time between cataract surgeries in each eye is generally between 1 week and 1 month.

Cataracts don’t typically advance at the same rate in both eyes, and cataract surgery can be scheduled separately as symptoms progress in each eye.