What is cornea transplant?

A cornea transplant, also called keratoplasty, is a surgical procedure to replace part of your cornea with corneal tissue from a donor.

The cornea is the clear outer layer at the front of the eyeball. It acts as a window to the eye. The cornea helps to focus light rays on to the retina (the light-sensitive film at the back of the eye). This “picture” is then transmitted to the brain.

When the cornea is damaged, it can become less transparent or its shape can change. This can prevent light reaching the retina and causes the picture transmitted to the brain to be distorted or unclear. To regain your vision, a cornea transplant is needed.

Why is cornea transplant performed?

Certain conditions can affect the clarity of your cornea and put you at greater risk of corneal failure. These include:

  • Scarring from infections, such as eye herpesor fungal keratitis.
  • Scarring from trichiasis, when eyelashes grow inwardly, toward the eye, and rub against the cornea.
  • Hereditary conditions such as Fuchs’ dystrophy.
  • Eye diseases such as advanced keratoconus.
  • Thinning of the cornea and irregular corneal shape (such as with keratoconus).
  • Rare complications from LASIK surgery.
  • Chemical burns of the cornea or damage from an eye injury.
  • Excessive swelling (edema) of the cornea.
  • Graft rejection following a previous corneal transplant.
  • Corneal failure due to cataract surgery complications.

A cornea transplant can restore vision, reduce pain and improve the appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea.

Most cornea transplant procedures are successful. But cornea transplant carries a small risk of complications, such as rejection of the donor cornea.


What are the risks of cornea transplant?

Cornea transplant is a relatively safe procedure. Still, a cornea transplant does carry a small risk of serious complications, such as:

  • Eye infection
  • Increased risk of clouding of the eye’s lens (cataracts)
  • Pressure increase within the eyeball (glaucoma)
  • Problems with the stitches used to secure the donor cornea
  • Rejection of the donor cornea
  • Swelling of the cornea

In some cases, your body’s immune system may mistakenly attack the donor cornea. This is called rejection, and it may require medical treatment or another cornea transplant.

Make an appointment with your eye doctor if you notice any signs and symptoms of rejection, such as:

  • Loss of vision
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light

Rejection occurs in about 20 percent of cornea transplants.

It is important you understand the risks and complications before having this surgery. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.


How do I prepare for cornea transplant surgery?

Before the surgery, you need to go through several tests:

  • A comprehensive eye examination. Your ophthalmologist determines diseases and dangerous conditions which can cause complications after surgery.
  • Measure the cornea of the eye. Your ophthalmologist decides the size of donated corneas that you need.
  • Your doctor will assess all medicines and dietary supplements you are taking. You may need to stop taking certain medicines and dietary supplements before or after the surgery.
  • Treat other eye diseases. Some eye diseases such as infection or inflammation can reduce the likelihood of success of cornea transplant surgery. Your ophthalmologist will work to treat the problems before surgery.

What happens during cornea transplant surgery?

Your doctor can carry out various anesthesias. The surgery can last from 1 to 2 hours.

The surgeon will remove the center of the spoiled cornea and replace with a cornea from a donor.

The surgeon can replace a whole cornea, the outer layer or the inner one. He/she will
microsurgical suture to secure new cornea piece into place.

If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.


What happens after cornea transplant?

You probably don’t have to worry that your body will reject the transplant. It only happens in a few cases. And you don’t have to be matched to a donor because the cornea is what your doctor will call an immunologically privileged part of the eye. That means your immune system is less likely to reject the new tissue. You’ll also get steroid eyedrops to prevent problems. Your body is even less likely to reject the transplant if only the outer layers are replaced.

Are there any complications that may happen?

The chances that you’ll have complications also depends on how many layers are transplanted. They can include:

  • Bleeding (this is rare)
  • Scarring
  • Cataracts, retinal detachment, and damage to other parts of the eye
  • Leakage of fluid from the transplant incision
  • Infection (this is rare)
  • Vision problems. Full thickness transplants can result in astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness. You might need glasses or contact lenses.

The same problem that damaged your old cornea could also harm the new one. For example, you could get a herpes simplex infection in the transplant.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017

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