photo of man driving

When can I drive?

Inevitably, that’s the first question people ask concerning their upcoming cataract surgery at Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute. The answer is simple… It depends. Let’s step back for some perspective.

What are Cataracts?

To fully understand why you can’t drive right away and why it can take several days to heal, let’s start with what a cataract actually is.

When you’re young, the lens in your eye is clear. Around age 40, the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down and clump together. These changes will make your lens become cloudy over time which we call a cataract. Over time, the cataract gets more severe and clouds more of the lens.

You may not even notice it at first, and when you do, it doesn’t always require treatment right away. However, once it becomes too cloudy, the cataract causes your vision to become blurry, hazy, or less colorful. You may have trouble reading, experience glare, or have difficulty doing other everyday activities.

Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans aged 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts. While most cataracts are age-related, you can get cataracts for other reasons — for example, after an eye injury or after surgery for another eye problem (like glaucoma).

While cataracts themselves won’t harm your eyes, when they start to interfere with your everyday life it’s time for an ophthalmologist to deal with it. The treatment is inevitably surgery. The good news is that cataract surgery is safe and corrects the vision problems cataracts cause.

What is Cataract surgery?

Cataract surgery is the most common eye surgery. Besides being safe and effective, recovery is generally smooth and uncomplicated. You can usually return to most activities within several days.

You can also do many things to help your healing process that we’ll explain below. Since each person is different, it’s always best to talk with your doctor about your specific recovery schedule and instructions.

What to Expect Post Cataract Surgery

For many patients, the difference in their vision after cataract surgery is pleasantly surprising. However, there are a few other symptoms you may notice right away:

  • You may feel groggy or a bit “off” from the anesthesia, but it should only last a short time.
  • Your eyes may feel sensitive to light and a bit itchy for a few days following surgery.
  • You may notice glare and halos around bright lights at night. This is normal and usually will go away soon after surgery.

A day or two after cataract surgery, your Florida Eye physician will want to see you to make sure you’re free of infection and recovering well. This means you should plan on having someone to drive you at least two times: to your home immediately after surgery, and back to the physician’s office the day after for your follow-up visit.

Cataract Surgery has Short Downtime

Recent technological advances in cataract surgery include laser-assisted surgery. Using state-of-the-art imaging and computer-guided control, laser-mediated incisions and lens softening can minimize “collateral” damage and allow for quicker recovery from surgery. As a result, your eyes heal quickly without requiring any sutures or other timely or painful interventions. And your daily life returns to normal pretty quickly. Though there may be some temporary limitations and restrictions.

Limitations & Restrictions of Cataract Surgery

In most cases, you should see improvement in your vision in a few days — at least when it comes to cataracts. It can take up to a month to heal fully after surgery, and you will need a revision to your eyeglasses prescription once your eyes adjust to their new normal.

Still, most people are able to return to their regular routine within a few days of cataract surgery. But there are some activities you should avoid. These activities primarily concern reducing pressure on your eyes and avoiding exposure to things that could irritate them and cause slow healing.

Tips for Recovery from Cataract Surgery

Cataract recovery tips include:

  • limiting exercise and heavy lifting
  • avoiding rubbing your eyes
  • wearing sunglasses when you are in bright places
  • showering carefully and avoid getting soap or water into your eyes
  • avoiding cosmetics and creams around the eyes for at least a week
  • not swimming or using a hot tub or sauna
  • avoiding irritants like chemicals and dust

If you’re unsure about what tasks are permitted after surgery, call your physician. After about a month, cataract surgery recovery should be virtually complete, and, with your physician’s approval, you’ll soon be back to all your favorite activities – including golfing, jogging, gardening, reading, and traveling.

But what about driving?

Should you Drive After Cataract Surgery?

The primary reason you can’t drive after undergoing cataract surgery is that the procedure typically leaves your vision a little bit cloudy or blurry. But each person reacts differently to cataract surgery. It comes down to how your body handles it and how quickly it begins healing. Post-surgery, it’s common for vision to be blurry for a few days.

After cataract surgery, your physician may put an eye patch or protective shield over your eye, and you’ll spend about a half hour in a recovery area. You cannot drive immediately following the surgery, so be sure to make arrangements beforehand for someone to drive you home once the physician clears you.

While you may be eager to resume driving, you will want to make a decision that takes into account both your safety and the safety of others. Obviously, if you cannot see well enough to drive, then you must wait until your visual acuity improves to resume driving. However, even if your vision is adequate for driving, you will also want to consider whether:

  • Any swelling you experienced from cataract surgery has diminished to the point that it will not interfere with your ability to see clearly. If the swelling does interfere with the clarity of your vision, wait for it to subside before you resume driving.
  • You will require corrective lenses to augment your IOL prescription in order to achieve your best possible vision. Even premium IOLs do not guarantee that you will no longer require glasses or contact lenses.
  • Increased sensitivity to light might interfere with your ability to drive comfortably. Increased light sensitivity is a common, albeit temporary, side effect of cataract surgery.

The good news is that many people can drive again within 24 hours. However, it’s highly recommended you do not drive until you’ve seen your eye physician after the surgery. Your ophthalmologist may recommend you wait a few more days before driving.

How can I Prevent Cataracts?

Before you ask, When can I drive?, we hope you’ll first ask us, How can I prevent cataracts?

At Florida Eye, we work diligently to be your preferred cataract surgeon. But we would prefer that you not need surgery at all! That’s why we recommend that you take the following steps to protect your eyes and delay cataracts.

  • Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block the sun.
  • Quit smoking. If you’re ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support.
  • Eat healthily. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — especially dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collard greens.
  • Get a dilated eye exam. If you’re age 60 or older, get a dilated eye exam at least once every 2 years.

Whether you need cataract surgery or not, Florida Eye is your trusted eye health provider.

Contact Us for Clarity

Keep in mind that cataract surgery has proven to be an extremely safe and effective restorative procedure, with more than 3 million surgeries performed each year in the U.S. alone. Thanks to cataract surgery, countless patients have enjoyed better vision and improved quality of life, and you can count yourself among them by calling us or scheduling an appointment with Florida Eye today.