If the cornea (the clear front “window” of the eye) is not clear or is diseased or abnormally shaped, a corneal transplant may be necessary to allow light to properly enter the eye. A corneal transplant may be performed due to an eye injury, corneal scarring, a severe corneal infection, an abnormal shape of the cornea (such as keratoconus), or other corneal dystrophies. Over 40,000 corneal transplants are performed each year in the United States.
After being given an IV sedation along with numerous numbing, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory eye drops, your surgeon will remove the cloudy or distorted cornea and replace it with new corneal tissue from a donor, carefully securing the new tissue with sutures that are often thinner than a human hair. This procedure is performed in a sterile hospital environment.
Most patients are able to resume their normal daily activities within a day or two after their surgery, although your vision will usually be blurry for several days and you may noticed a scratchy sensation. Your doctor will require you to follow certain restrictions, such as not lifting heavy objects, rubbing your eyes, getting water in your eyes, or bending your head below your heart. Patients will also be required to wear a clear plastic eye shield following surgery to prevent unconscious rubbing of the eye until it is fully healed.
As the eye heals, your surgeon will carefully remove some of the stitches, which can be done in the doctor’s office during post-operative exams. It may take several months for the corneal tissue to heal and the vision to stabilize. Sometimes glasses or contacts are necessary to further improve vision following a corneal transplant.
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks as well as benefits. About one in ten patients receiving a corneal transplant is at risk of rejecting the new tissue. Certain medications may be able to prevent rejection if caught early, but a second transplant may be necessary if your body continues to reject the tissue. Fortunately, corneal transplants has one of the highest success rates compared to other transplant procedures.