Corneal transplant is a surgical procedure used to replace a portion of a diseased or damaged cornea with a healthy one.
The cornea is the clear, outer surface on the front of the eye.
Cornea of the Eye
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A corneal transplant can correct vision problems caused by infections, injuries, or medical conditions that effect the cornea. It is often recommended for the following: Keratoconus—a thinning and bulging of the cornea that causes blurred visionA cornea scarred from infection or injuryClouding of the corneaComplications of previous eye surgery
The procedure is highly successful. Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: Rejection of the new cornea—The body’s defense system attacks the new tissue, damaging it.GlaucomaProblems focusing
detachment of the retinaCataractInfectionBleeding
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as: SmokingDrinking
Chronic diseases, such as
The operation is most successful for those who have the following: KeratoconusCorneal scars
It is less successful for those who have corneal infection
and severe injury, like a chemical burn.
Your ophthalmologist may do a physical exam and blood tests.
Before the procedure: Talk to your doctor about your medications. Also, discuss any herbs or vitamins you take. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.Arrange to have someone drive you home.Arrange for help at home after the procedure.Use any eye drops as instructed by your eye surgeon.The day before, do not eat or drink anything after midnight unless told otherwise by your doctor.
Two types of anesthesia can be used during a corneal transplant: Local anesthesia to numb the eyeGeneral anesthesia
The procedure will be done under a surgical microscope. The damaged part of the cornea will be cut out. The new cornea will then be placed in the opening. The new cornea will be fastened with very fine stitches. Finally, a patch and shield will be put over the eye.
There is another technique called Descemet's stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK). DSEK is used for some types of cornea transplants. It may result in shorter recovery time and better vision. With this technique, the doctor removes a much smaller part of the cornea, compared with older procedures.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You will most likely go home after a few hours in the recovery area.
Recovery at home includes pain management and avoiding certain activities until the eye heals. Other recovery steps may include: Using eye dropsWearing glasses during the day or a shield at nightNot rubbing the eyeProtecting the eye from accidental bumps or pokesAvoiding contact sports
Vision may initially be worse than before your surgery before your eye adjusts to the new cornea. It may take several months for it to improve. Stitches are usually left in place for several months. Regular follow-up visits will allow the doctor to monitor how the eye is healing.
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Signs of infection, including fever and chillsVision symptoms, including decreased vision, floaters, flashing lights, increased light sensitivity, or loss of peripheral visionIncreased eye rednessIncreased painPersistent nausea or vomiting
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Corneal and external transplants. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at:
http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/cole-eye/treatments-services/cornea-external-disease. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Corneal surgery FAQ. The University of Mississippi Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology Services website. Available at:
http://www.umc.edu/education/schools/medicine/clinical_science/ophthalmology/clinical_services(ophthalmology)/corneal_surgery_faq.aspx. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Corneal transplants. National Keratoconus Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.nkcf.org/corneal-transplants. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Facts about the cornea and corneal disease. The National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/cornealdisease/index.asp. Updated May 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Frequently asked questions. Eye Bank Association of America website. Available at:
http://www.restoresight.org/about-us/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed June 27, 2013.
New advance in cornea transplantation. Duke Health website. Available at:
http://eyecenter.dukemedicine.org/eye_center/health_library/news/new_advance_in_cornea_transplantation. Updated July 10, 2009. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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