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A senior man with glasses using his mobile tablet on the couch
A senior man with glasses using his mobile tablet on the couch

Glaucoma Surgery Recovery: What You Need to Know

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Glaucoma surgery is a procedure intended to reduce eye pressure in an effort to help stabilize vision and prevent future vision loss resulting from glaucoma. This is accomplished by creating a new opening for fluid to drain from the eye — or, by implanting a shunt to help drain the fluid.

Although the surgery can lower eye pressure and help stabilize vision for a very long time, your doctors will still need to monitor your glaucoma during that time.  

Recovery from glaucoma surgery is usually a simple and pain-free experience. Much depends on the type of procedure and your doctor’s expectations for the eye pressure recovery. Regardless, you will need to exercise some general precautions to assist with the healing process.  Ophthalmologist E. Randy Craven, from the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, provides essential information to keep in mind as you recover from your specific surgery.

What should I expect after glaucoma surgery?

Blurry vision in the operated eye is common during the immediate recovery period. Your vision will improve over the days and weeks that follow. Other common temporary effects to the eye after surgery include: 

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Tearing
  • The feeling of a small object in your eye 

“You will probably be given a shield to wear over the eye to prevent bumping or rubbing your eye,” says Craven. “Some procedures do not require a shield.”

Most of the time, your eye drops schedule for your glaucoma will change after your procedure. Depending on the surgery, your doctor may also prescribe new eye drops to hasten recovery.

Most people who have glaucoma surgery do not experience significant pain. If you do feel pain in the eye, however, you should consult your eye doctor about the best options on how to relieve it.

What role will my eye doctor play during recovery?

You will have multiple appointments with your eye care team during the recovery period to make sure your eye is healing correctly. “Your eye doctor will also monitor the healing and may also remove or cut stitches that were put in during the surgery,” says Craven. “Depending on your recovery, your doctor may schedule more or fewer appointments over this time.”

Your doctor will also review your glaucoma medications schedule, including when you should resume using them and how much you should take.

During your recovery, consult with your eye doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, which could be a sign of infection:

  • Additional pain in the eye
  • Redness in the eye
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Pus or discharge from the eye
  • A shadow in the visual field
  • Decreasing vision

How long does it take to recover from glaucoma surgery?

Recovery from glaucoma surgery varies, depending on the surgery. “Visual recovery can be rapid with less invasive procedures, such as minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), because they do not dramatically alter the structure or shape of the eye,” says Craven. “More traditional surgeries can drop the pressure substantially or cause blurriness from astigmatism associated with suturing.”

“However, recovery can be slowed by the severity of the glaucoma and other conflicting factors, such as blood thinners or the eye’s reaction to the procedure,” he adds. “Most people notice recovery in vision in days to weeks after the surgery. Instances of monthslong recovery are also possible, although very uncommon.”

What am I able to do following glaucoma surgery?

It’s important to consult with your eye doctor for specific timelines regarding your recovery. “Generally, we are cautious when the pressure in the eye is low,” says Craven. “We will recommend limited lifting and bending. If your pressure normalizes, you should be able to return to light job duties in about one or two weeks.”

Most people can resume daily activities such as reading, watching TV or using phones, computers or other electronic devices within the first few days following surgery. Showering and bathing may also resume. Eye protection (a shield or glasses) is used to prevent bumping or rubbing the eye.

“You will not be able to drive home following surgery, so it’s important to have someone available to take you there and back,” says Craven. “Driving can resume based on the level of glaucoma, the other eye’s condition and which procedure was done. Your surgeon will provide that guidance during your appointment.”

What should I avoid following glaucoma surgery?

For the procedures where the eye pressure is low, avoid the following activities during the first couple of weeks after surgery:

  • Exercise, such as running, or lifting more than 10 pounds
  • Bending, lifting or straining

You should also avoid these activities, which can cause infection from bacteria:

  • Swimming or using hot tubs; depending on the surgery, there may be a lifelong precaution in this regard
  • Wearing reusable contact lenses; sometimes the surgeon will place a specific contact to hasten healing
  • Wearing eye makeup or face cream
Your eye care team will be able to provide more detailed timelines and directions for your recovery after your procedure.
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