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After eye cancer surgery

Find out how you might feel after your eye surgery and possible problems.

When you wake up

You usually have a general anaesthetic for eye surgery. So you are unconscious and won’t feel anything during the operation. You wake up in the recovery area next to the operating theatres.

At first you may be wearing a mask or have small tubes into your nose (nasal cannulae) to give you oxygen. You might feel dizzy and sluggish to begin with.

You may have a drip into your vein (intravenous infusion). You have fluids through this until you are eating and drinking again. You have a blood pressure cuff on your arm and a little clip on your finger to measure your pulse and oxygen level.

You will probably have a dressing over the eye or eye socket. This usually stays in place for about 12 to 48 hours.

Once you are more awake, your nurse will take you back to the ward. They will check you regularly and make sure you are ok.

Painkillers

It’s normal to have pain for the first week or so. The doctor and nurses can give you painkillers.

Tell your doctor or nurse as soon as you feel any pain. They need your help to find the right type and dose of painkiller for you. Painkillers work best when you take them regularly.

You get painkillers to take home. Follow the instructions your nurse gives you about how often and when to take them. Contact your doctor if you still have pain or if it gets worse.

Anaesthetic drugs can make some people feel or be sick. There are anti sickness drugs that can help stop this.

Getting up

Your nurses will help you to get up as soon as possible after surgery. You might feel a bit dizzy at first. Later the same day or the morning after the operation, you are usually walking around by yourself. But you will feel tired.

You are less likely to get a chest infection or a blood clot if you are moving around.

Eating and drinking

You drink sips of water to begin with. If you manage this, you can then move on to other drinks such as tea.

Your nurse will remove your drip once you are drinking well without feeling or being sick.

You can start eating when you feel up to it. This is often within a few hours of your operation. It can be helpful to have plain, bland foods at first. Strongly flavoured foods are more likely to make you feel sick.

Making progress

During the first few days after your operation you will start to feel better and less sore.  Depending on the type of operation, many people go home the same day or the day after.

Looking after your eye area

Dressing

The dressing over your eye or eye socket helps to stop bleeding and reduce swelling. It might feel quite tight and you may find it difficult to open your eye until the dressing is removed. The nurse will check the dressing and wound regularly during the first few hours after your surgery.

When the nurse removes your dressing, they will clean your eyelid and examine the eye, or eye socket with a small torch. Your surgeon will also see you and examine your eye.

You may need stitches for some types of eye surgery. For example, if a small cancer is removed from the eyelid.  In most cases you usually go home with the stitches in. Your nurse will show you how to look after them. You may need a small plaster or dressing over the area to keep it clean. You will have an outpatient appointment to remove the stitches.

Eye Implant and conformer

During the operation, if you have your eye removed, your surgeon fits a permanent eye implant into the socket.

The implant helps keep the structure of the eye socket and supports the artificial eye, which is fitted later. When looking at the area it appears pink and you will not see the implant.

It is usual have a conformer over the implant for a few weeks after surgery. This is a clear or painted plastic shell the size of a contact lens. This helps to keep the shape of the eye socket. You can see the conformer in the socket and can remove it to clean it. Your nurse will show you how to do this and help you until you are confident to do this yourself. It is usual to wear the conformer until you have your artificial eye.

Photograph showing a conformer
Photograph showing a conformer

Swelling and bruising

Your eyelids and face may be swollen and bruised for a few days after your operation. You could try using cool packs to help reduce the swelling and discomfort. You might need antibiotics to help prevent infections.

Around the wound you may also notice a watery or pink discharge. You may also be aware of a scratchy feeling around the socket as the eye lid moves. These both get better over the first few days after surgery.

Wearing dark glasses

You might find it helpful to have a pair of dark glasses with you. Some people prefer to wear these until the swelling has gone. The glasses can help to protect the wound while it heals. And they could help if your eyes are sensitive to light.

If your eye has been removed, opening your eyelids for the first time and seeing the wound can come as a shock. Your nurse or doctor will be with you when this happens.

If you don’t have a plastic shell (conformer) in place you will see the pink, moist tissue lining the eye socket. If you do have a shell in place you will just see the clear or painted plastic shell with a hole in the middle.

Give yourself some time to adjust. It’s really important to remember that your eye will not look like this forever. Once your artificial eye is in place it will look very similar to your other eye. You have an artificial eye fitted a few weeks after your operation once your eye socket has healed.

Going home

Your nurse will show you how to clean and care for your eye. If you have had your whole eye removed, they will explain how to care for the eye socket.

You might find it hard to do this at first. Some people find taking care of the eye and socket distressing. If you don’t feel able to cope with it yourself, the ward can arrange for a district nurse to visit you at home.

Once you are at home you may have eye drops for the next few days. These help to reduce the redness and swelling. Your nurse will show you how to put them in. Try not to scratch or rub your eye, this could delay healing.

It is good to keep active. But your doctor or nurse may suggest that you only do gentle exercise, especially for the first couple of weeks. Check with your doctor if you want to exercise more. 

Your pain killers can cause constipation and so you may have other tablets (laxatives) to help prevent this. Ways to prevent constipation include:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • having a good amount of fibre in your diet

Things to look out for

It is unusual to have any serious problems following eye surgery. But all operations have some risks.  You should be given a phone number to ring in case you are have any questions or concerns once at home. Contact this number if you have: 

  • bleeding around the eye or eye socket
  • swelling around the eye or eye socket that becomes worse
  • pain around the eye that become worse, or a stabbing pain sensation around the eye
  • drooping of the eye lid

Follow up appointments

You will  have follow up appointments to check your recovery and sort out any problems. They‘re also your opportunity to raise any concerns you have about your progress.