What You Need to Know About Cornea Transplants

A man is having his eyes examined by a doctor with an eye-exam machine

A cornea transplant is a surgical procedure that replaces tissue inside the eye with tissue from a donor. More specifically, the surgeon replaces the cornea, which is the clear, round outer lens of the eye that helps with focus. The procedure can help you see better and reduce eye pain.

There are several reasons someone might need a cornea transplant, sometimes called a keratoplasty. One common cause for this conditions includes thinning of the cornea, which is a condition known as keratoconus.

Other eye conditions can cause vision problems significant enough to require cornea transplant as well. These include severe infections and injuries that scar the cornea, swelling of the cornea, and complications from previous eye surgery. Another serious condition is called Fuch’s dystrophy, that makes the cornea more prone to swelling, which can also lead to reduced vision.

About Donor Corneas

The corneal tissue used in a cornea transplants comes from a person who has recently passed away and requested that their cornea tissue be donated to a local eye bank to help others.

The age of the donor is not a factor in most cases of cornea transplant, according to the Cornea Donor Study, which showed the 10-year success rate for donors aged 12 to 65 years was 77 percent, compared to 71 percent for donors aged 66 to 75 years.

About Cornea Transplants

Cornea transplants are one of the most common types of transplants done, according to the National Library of Medicine.  About 46,000 people undergo corneal transplants in the United States each year.  In addition to penetrating keratoplasty, other forms of corneal transplantation include endothelial and anterior lamellar keratoplasty.

Your eye doctor can help you determine if you need a cornea transplant by performing a thorough eye exam. If your doctor suggests a cornea transplant, it would be requested from your local eye bank. The donor corneal tissue will arrive from the eye bank when you are scheduled for surgery.  Thankfully donor corneal tissue is readily available and can be stored for up to a week at a time.  It is not common to have to “wait” for a cornea or be put on a transplant list like other organ transplants.

To perform a cornea transplant, the eye surgeon removes a small round piece of your cornea then places the donated tissue into the opening. Depending on the type of corneal transplant, sutures may need to be used.  You go home the same day. Your eye doctor will have you wear an eye patch for one to four days following the procedure.

Your vision may be temporarily worse immediately after the procedure as your eye adjusts to the new cornea. It may take several weeks or months for your vision to clear as postoperative inflammation diminishes.

Cornea transplant will at least partially restore vision for most people who undergo the procedure. Your results will depend largely on the reason for your surgery and your overall health. Once your eye has healed, your eye doctor will fine-tune your vision by addressing uneven areas in your cornea, known as astigmatism, or by correcting other vision problems by prescribing glasses, contacts or, in some cases, laser eye surgery.

Most cornea transplants are successful. As with any surgical intervention, the procedure does carry a small risk for complications, including:

  • Eye infection
  • Increased risk for cataracts that cloud the lens
  • Rejection of the donor tissue

The eye care professionals at Florida Eye Specialists have the expertise and tools to perform cornea transplants in their outpatient care facility. If you or someone you love needs a cornea transplant, make an appointment with one of the eye care physicians at Florida Eye Specialists. We have five convenient locations around Jacksonville that make it easy for you to learn whether cornea transplants could help you view the world in a clearer light. Contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.