If you are considering strabismus surgery, then taking a look ahead at what to expect with the recovery is super smart. While the eyes are a small part of the body, the recovery from surgery takes just as much time to heal as a normal muscle surgery.
So what is the recovery from strabismus surgery like? Strabismus surgery recovery includes 2-3 days of full time drugs, icing and soreness followed by about 1 week of double vision and visual confusion. After 2 weeks, you are mostly ready to get back to normal life with things like make-up, driving, and swimming. The redness (bruising), and light muscle soreness/strain last 6-8 weeks depending on the surgery.
Every surgery is different and the recovery definitely will depend on how many muscles were operated on and how much those muscles had to be adjusted. Those are definitely questions to ask your surgeon at the pre-op appointment (click to read about mine).
For my surgery, my eyes were moved 60 degrees by adjusting 4 different muscles (read here). When compared to others, it seems that my recovery was pretty strenuous, probably because of the type of surgery that had to be done.
Having adjustable sutures can definitely change the recovery time as well, they added several days onto my recovery process, but yielded fantastic results! Read all about mine here.
It’s easy to look back now and say that all the drama and trauma and pain was worth it, but what were those first few days and weeks actually like? Lucky for you, I kept a pretty detailed journal about how I was feeling each day for the first few weeks and weekly after so that I could share those details with all of you.
So if you want every detail about what to expect after strabismus surgery with so many selfies, keep reading!
Note: I did 18 months of vision therapy before surgery and continued therapy after surgery and it made a huge difference on my results. If you want to know if vision therapy could be a good fit for you, take this free quiz. I can even help you figure out the best path to straight eyes through a 45 minute zoom call, learn more and sign up over HERE.
Day 1- I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t want to open my eyes and was on ibuprofen and codeine around the clock. I kept ice on my eyes most of the day and had bloody discharge coming out of my eyes (gross!). My eye started out pretty straight, by by the evening was turned in pretty far. I mostly stayed in my dark room and slept.
Day 2- My eyes were glued shut with discharge throughout the night when I woke up to refill my ice pack and take my ibuprofen. The pain is very manageable as long as I keep the ice on. Looking forward I have almost no pain, but looking to the sides hurts so much and makes me nauseous and dizzy. I am feeling very discouraged, depressed and frustrated and feel like the surgery was not a success.
Day 3- The pain seems to have peaked today. The longer I have my eyes open, the more they hurt and burn. Walking around is killer because my eyes automatically want to move, which makes those muscles hurt. I tried to walk heal to toe and my balance is non-existent. I feel like everything looks distorted and I don’t know where I am in space. I seem to be having a lot of visual confusion. I have been tilting my head a lot, subconsciously trying to get things to look normal.
Day 4- Today the pain is starting to feel better, I’m not having to ice constantly, and I’m not using codeine at all anymore, but I am still on ibuprofen around the clock. Looking to the sides is still really painful. Now that I’m keeping my eyes open more, I am getting very nauseous from all of the visual confusion. I am so frustrated that I can’t control my eyes at all. I used to be able to make them straight, but now I can barely focus on anything. The double vision is still pretty severe, especially in the distance.
Day 5- Things are pretty similar today. I am still sleeping 12-15 hours a day. Sleeping really relieves the nausea, I am also icing a few times a day. The dizziness, nausea and double vision are not getting better. I feel like I am seeing two worlds that are not lining up and it is making me very dizzy and sick. My attitude is better and I’m realizing that the suture adjustment will hopefully help. (Later that day)- I was able to control my right eye for the first time since surgery, I am slowly gaining control of my eyes back.
Day 6- The redness is starting to turn orange which is so gross looking, but it doesn’t hurt much and I’m not needing the ibuprofen anymore. Today my husband went back to work and I had my first day without help. I was able to do some cleaning and laundry with just a few breaks in between and a nap. The dizziness and nausea seem like they might be getting a little better.
Day 7- Today I am getting my sutures adjusted which means a 3 hour drive. The first 30 minutes in the car were absolute torture and I had to cover my eyes. SO MUCH VISUAL CONFUSION and nausea. It was crazy. But by the end of the 3 hour drive, my brain had started to figure things out and it wasn’t too bad. The double vision is still pretty crazy.
September 2, Day 8- Today I am feeling so good! My eyes are so much more straight so mentally I feel amazing, and the dizziness and nausea have pretty much gone away. I still have double vision, when I’m not looking up close. The pain is actually worse now than with the surgery, probably because I am not sleeping all day with ice packs on my eyes. It feels like my eyes are full of rocks. I didn’t plan on having any help for round two so I have had to be up and moving like normal.
September 3, Day 9- My right eye is really sore, it is hard to move to the sides. My eye is still in a little bit. Ice is so effective and keeping the pain down. I get pretty swollen if I don’t ice enough. I am feeling better emotionally, last week I was a complete disaster! Keeping one eye open has really helped.
September 4, Day 9- We are going camping and we rented a camper because my eye is still weeping quite a bit and I need running water to keep it clean. I was able to pack, cook and clean to get ready to go and I still feel pretty good, although I did get a 2 hour nap in. I’m tired, but I am not dead. I haven’t had any dizziness or nauseous and the double vision is very minimal. But I don’t think that both of my eyes are working together.
September 5, Day 10- Today my eyes started to feel so itchy! I have gotten this far without an eye infection and I don’t want to get one so I am just working so hard to not itch! Icing definitely helps the itching go away. I was feeling really good so I decided to go on a bike ride to get practiced for driving. It was going really well until I ran into Everly (my daughter), so I guess my peripheral vision is still really sketchy.
September 6, Day 11- I am still really itchy! It seems to be settling down a little bit already though, which I am excited about. We have been playing on the lake and hiking around which has been pushing me. I thought I was back to normal with balance, but today showed me that I am far from recovered. My brain is still getting used to my new eye position for sure.
September 7, Day 12- I forgot to take painkillers last night and I woke up a little sore and swollen, but not too bad, so exciting! The itching has settled down and I’m feeling much better. I am not getting any fusion, anytime that I try to use both eyes and bring the images together, my right eye just turns way in. I am very frustrated. But at least they look more straight now I guess.
September 8, Day 13- I am not taking pain killers at all anymore. It still is sore to move my eyes to the sides, but not sharp pain at all, just sore. I drove myself for the first official big drive to vision therapy. I was getting a ton of double vision in the distance and I had to patch my right eye. Parking was really hard, trying to figure out the spacing between cars was so confusing. I probably shouldn’t be out driving at this point. Vision therapy was the worst. I can’t do any of the exercises and struggle to even track a pencil. It was probably to early to try to start back with therapy.
September 15, day 20- I am not able to do any of my exercises and I’m feeling very frustrated. It makes my head hurt to try to move my eyes to the sides and keep them stretched out. I am trying to just be patient.
September 17, Day 22- The redness and swelling are going down so much. I am still pink, but it isn’t too noticeable. There have been a lot of fires so that isn’t helping at all. The double vision is becoming more noticeable. It is only a problem when I’m looking in the distance…which is only an issue when I drive, but it’s a big issue. I get a double image of the the cars going the opposite direction right into my lane, so scary! I have to be ready with a patch.
September 29, Day 34- We are on a family trip. My eyes feel really good and aren’t hurting much anymore. Hiking on these beautiful rocks has been entertaining for my family. I trip over “air” frequently and lose my step quite a bit. I think it is so good for me though and I am definitely learning. The redness in my eyes was almost gone, but I went went into a swimming pool and opened my eyes and they got sooo bloodshot and red and sensitive afterwards. Next time I’ll be wearing goggles.
October 3, Day 38- Today we are heading back home from our trip. By the end of the week I am much less wobbly and my equilibrium seems to be returning. I am realizing that the more I push my brain, the faster my brain learns. As we were driving home I was starting t get both eyes working together a little bit. I was felling my eye kind of fuse but not all the way, but I was getting both eyes to turn on at the same time. I was using the wide open space and trying to engage my peripheral and it was working. I got so nauseous and tired and had to rest.
October 7, Day 42- I feel like my eyes have really settled into a final position. I’m not having pain, but they are not back to normal. Instead of being able to track smoothly, I feel like my eyes jump around from object to object. Tracking a pen or finger or anything requires so much concentration and it is very challenging for me still. I feel like I look good, but my eyes are far from working good.
October 13, Day 48- My right eye still crosses in when I “try” to use both eyes together. When I am relaxed, my eyes appear pretty straight. I started Vivid Vision (A VR program, read here) this week and I feel like my eyes aren’t as jumpy and my distance double vision is lessening. I am starting to see hints of stereopsis during my vision therapy appointments. I can’t control it, or hold it, but I feel like there is hope, like all of this is going to work.
October 16, Day 51- I am getting sick of my eyes not working well together, even thought they look better, I am anxious to experience stereopsis again. I am going all in and decided to try eating a Nutritarian diet with Whitney K Coaching to see if it will help my brain learn faster.
October 20, Day 55- Today I “tried” to engage both eyes and instead of having my eye cross in, it went straight. The vision therapy is working and I am learning to use both eyes together! Smooth tracking and keeping my eyes focused on a target are still pretty challenging, but every day it gets a little better.
October 27, Day 62- Today I experienced real life stereopsis for the first time since surgery. I was wearing glasses with prism and I saw a tree totally 3D. It was really amazing and so exciting. I was definitely wobbly on some of the exercises at my appointment, but overall I am starting to feel more normal.
November 6, Day 72- Today I had my post-op appointment with my ophthalmologist. I went and rode scooters around downtown Salt Lake first with my sister and I was a little off balance. I wasn’t able to focus on the road, surrounding, traffic and having fun unless I was going super slow. It was pretty tough trying to keep up to my sister. I was feeling discouraged, but then I went to my appointment and I was able to SEE A STEREOGRAM for the first time every in my life. It was so exciting and so cool to see the fly’s wings float off the page. Maybe everything is going to work out after all.
November 10, Day 76- I think the healthy eating is really making a difference. My brain and eyes feel more clear, like I’m not fighting a bunch of fluff. I feel like my balance and peripheral are improving every day. I have been extremely stressed which made me regress a bit, but I’m learning to find balance.
November 17, Day 83- My glasses seem to be making a big difference. I am seeing with stereopsis most days now. Random cups, chairs or doorknobs will suddenly appear 3D. It is so exciting. The redness seems to be completely gone now, two and a half months later. My eyes have settled pretty straight and I am learning to use them together.
December 1, Day 97- I feel like I’ve reached were I was before surgery as far as eye movement, balance and color are going. My eye position is obviously super different than it was. I am learning to relax my eyes, open my peripheral, and use both eyes together. Now I’m to the part where my progress goes up and down depending on how dedicated I am to exercises and how healthy I choose to eat. I feel like the surgery recovery is over.
December 8, Day 104- I am past the 100 days mark and I am happy to report that I am back to “normal,” whatever that means. I still have a long way to go to have perfectly coordinating eyes, but I have surpassed where I was before surgery. I can now park the car with no issues. My peripheral vision is great and I don’t trip over air or jump back from nothing anymore (at least not as often). My alignment is still at about 10 dt of esotropia, but sometimes my eyes are more straight than that.
The recovery from strabismus surgery was long and frustrating at times. There were highs and lows, moments of self-doubt, huge successes and so much more. But in the end, it was worth alll the trouble. My eyes are working better together than they ever have before and I feel like I am set up for huge success!
It is always worth enduring a few weeks or month of struggle to reach the next level, right?
To read about where I stand one year post surgery, head over here.