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How Long Do I Need To Wear Dark Glasses Outside After Cataract Surgery?

How Long Do I Need To Wear Dark Glasses Outside After Cataract Surgery?

Some may think that eye surgeons have the worst taste in sunglasses fashion. After cataract surgery, it is very common for the surgeon to send you home with big and clunky dark wrap-around sunglasses for you to wear over your eyes. But no, this isn’t just for fun, dark glasses do have a purpose after cataract surgery.

The eyes will be extra sensitive to light after cataract surgery due to dilation and inflammation. Wearing dark sunglasses outside during the first one to two weeks after cataract surgery will help the eyes feel more comfortable. Plus, the sunglasses will provide great protection to the eyes from extra irritating debris outside.

It can make a lot of sense to invest in a good pair of sunglasses even after those initial weeks after cataract surgery. But there are a few certain benefits that sunglasses provide to the recovery after cataract surgery.

Dilated Eyes After Cataract Surgery

Despite what some people think, the eye doesn’t have to be removed to perform cataract surgery. The cataract is instead reached through the natural pupil that we all have within our eyes.

But normally this pupil is small. Even worse, when we shine a light into the pupil (such as an operating microscope light), the pupil becomes smaller. A small pupil just doesn’t provide much of a view to access the cataract.

So instead, the pupil is dilated. This is done with eye drops while you wait for your surgery.

Works great for the surgery! But the surgery only takes about 15 minutes; and these eye drops take much longer to wear off. Depending on the eye drops received, it can be anywhere from 4 hours to a day! (see also How Long For Dilated Eyes To Return To Normal?)

But as you have probably already realized, so much more light enters the eye when the eyes are dilated. Even more so after cataract surgery when you no longer have the cataract to block that light. All that light can be very bothersome.

Until that dilation wears off, dark sunglasses can make you feel much more comfortable.

So after dilation you’re good to toss those glasses, right? Afraid not.

Sensitive Eyes After Cataract Surgery

Fun fact about the natural lens (and the cataract that develops within it): our own immune system recognizes it as a foreign invader. Fortunately, this lens and cataract normally is protected within its own encapsulated bag away from the threat of the immune system.

But these cataract proteins become exposed after cataract surgery (a small amount of residual microscopic ones). This creates inflammation within the eye.

Not anything severe, but enough to create some increased irritation and sensitivity inside the eye. This can cause the eye to feel a bit achy.

But this inflammation irritates the iris within the eye (the circular colored part of the eye that forms our pupil). Whenever this iris flexes in response to light (to make the pupil smaller), you can feel this irritation and sensitivity even more. This causes the eye to be more sensitive to light after cataract surgery.

But that’s not all causing sensitivity to light.

Inflammation not only happens inside the eye, it also occurs on the surface of the eye as well.

The surface of the eye gets a little “beat up” after cataract surgery. The eye can dry out more, toxic antiseptic chemicals such as betadine are placed on the surface to prevent infection, eye drops following cataract surgery contain preservatives which can irritate the eyes. This all creates some short-term irritation to the cornea on the surface of the eye.

When the cornea becomes irritated, it can also create some additional sensitivity to light shining in the eye.

Much of this extra inflammation within the eye and sensitivity on the surface of the eye heal within the first 1 to 2 weeks. So of course, when the eyes are extra sensitive to lights, wearing dark sunglasses can cut down on that extra light and make the eyes feel more comfortable.

Eye Protection

But those dark sunglasses have even more benefits. In fact, just by putting those shades over your eyes, you can allow for a safer recovery after cataract surgery.

Driving along a highway you are bound to have a few bugs hit the windshield of your car and create a mess. Bugs are everywhere! If you go for a walk after cataract surgery, bugs will be around you as well. And while you won’t be traveling at high speeds like a car, bugs can still forcibly fly into the eye. (happens all the time to me if I run around a lake at dusk or dawn without sunglasses).

And if we want the irritation on the surface of the eye to heal up quickly after cataract surgery, you better believe that having bugs faceplant on your eye isn’t the way to do it.

But it isn’t only bugs that we want to protect against. Sand, dirt, pollen, and wind are just a few of many things outdoors that can irritate the sensitive eyes. Especially after cataract surgery

So wearing those dark glasses outside can really help protect the eye even more. This is why many post cataract surgery sunglasses wrap around and protect the sides as well. Full 360 protection of the eyes.

How to really protect your eyes; Image courtesy of

Again, it is most important to wear sunglasses during the first week or two after cataract surgery. Especially if you are out and exposed to the elements; this is when wrap-around sunglasses really shine. But if you happen to be outdoors in a well protected area with low risk of bugs or debris, than it isn’t as critical to wear sunglasses.

Bonus Protection: From You

Ever have an urge or itch to take your finger or fist and rub your eye? Before you even realize what you are doing, you reach up and rub that itch away. We’ve all been there. While rubbing of the eyes isn’t great, sometimes its hard to avoid these reflexes.

But rubbing of the eye should be especially avoided after cataract surgery. Modern cataract surgery involves tiny micro watertight incisions without the need for stitches or sutures. And these work great; unless you really mash in on the eye.

Sunglasses can provide an extra barrier to keep you from rubbing your eyes. While its not perfect (you can still rub underneath the glasses) and not something you need to do the whole day (sometimes wearing sunglasses indoors doesn’t work), it can still provide some extra bonus benefit during the times you are wearing sunglasses.


Wearing dark glasses outside for one to two weeks after cataract surgery can help make the eyes feel more comfortable. But beyond that, sunglasses will help protect your eyes from anything that can irritate them outdoors.

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