A corneal transplant is a surgical procedure to replace the central portion of your cornea with corneal tissue from a donor. A corneal transplant can be recommended to restore vision in a person who has a damaged cornea. It can also be done to reduce pain or other symptoms associated with some corneal diseases. Some common conditions that can be treated with a corneal transplant are keratoconus, corneal scarring from an injury or infection, clouding or swelling of the cornea, thinning of the cornea, corneal ulcer, or complications caused from previous eye surgery.
The corneal transplant is done as an out-patient procedure, usually under general anesthesia. Corneas used in corneal transplants come from deceased donors, usually provided by The Michigan Eye Bank. During the most common type of corneal transplant (penetrating keratoplasty), your surgeon will remove a small circular disc of corneal tissue. The donor cornea is cut to fit and then placed in the opening. It is secured in place with stitches made by a very fine thread or suture. The stitches will be removed gradually during the next year. You should expect frequent visits with your surgeon for the next year.
Immediately after surgery, you will be on eye drops and possibly oral medication to help to control infection, swelling and pain. You will also have to wear a protective eye shield for awhile after surgery during certain activities. As with any surgical procedure, certain risks of complications exist. Some possible risks of corneal transplantation are eye infection, clouding of the lens (cataract), increase of intraocular pressure, problems with the stitches, swelling of the cornea, and rejection of the donor cornea . You may be on an eye drop for many years or for the remainder of your life to help keep your body from attacking the donor tissue. This is called a rejection. Rejection can occur in about 20% of corneal transplant patients. After receiving a corneal transplant, it is important to see your eye doctor immediately if you have any loss of vision, pain, redness, or sensitivity to light as these can be signs of a rejection.
With some types of corneal problems, a full-thickness corneal transplant may not be necessary. There may be other options. Your surgeon can help you decide which is the best option for you.