Cornea transplant procedure and recovery

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Also called corneal graft or penetrating keratoplasty, a cornea transplant replaces the damaged central corneal tissue with healthy corneal tissue. People with damaged corneal tissue usually suffer blurry vision or glary vision. It is estimated that about 40,000 people in the United States receive cornea transplant each year, and 79% of them do not experience graft rejection. Even if graft rejection occurs, it can be treated with successful management.

The necessity of cornea transplant

People with unhealthy cornea may have unsatisfying job performance. Their functional vision is also affected, which always can not be corrected by eyeglasses or contact lenses. There are many situations that require a cornea transplant, such as infection-caused scarring, keratoconus, hereditary factors, LASIK complications, chemical burns and excessive corneal swelling. Patients should also make a proper plan, since a cornea transplant needs a recovery period of six months to a year. Before receiving the surgery, it is also necessary to know the cost and potential vision benefits.

Details of the surgery

Healthy corneal tissue is usually supplied by a local eye bank, so that the recipient must wait for a donated eye. The donor cornea’s tissues must be meticulously screened, in case of the presence of any eye diseases. A corneal transplant will be conducted in an outpatient way and anesthesia is often used to relax the recipient’s eye muscles. During the two-hour surgery, a round, button-shaped corneal area will be removed and replaced with a nearly identical donor tissue. A smaller size of transplantation has the lower risk to cause irregular corneal shape. The patient’s eye should be shielded so as to avoid rubbing.

About graft rejection

Graft rejection may happen at a low incidence after at least one month. Those early signs of graft rejection include redness, light sensitivity, decreased vision and pain. Medications are available to reverse the rejection process. The worst case is second cornea transplantation. Except for this serious condition, there are some other risks of corneal transplant. If the cornea is avascular, blood loss may be caused when the surgeon is suturing the metal ring to the sclera. Moreover, eye infection is a quite common complication. Without blood vessels, the eye’s cornea heals much more slowly than a cut on the skin. During this process, various microorganisms may infect the wounded area. In most cases, antibiotic eye drops are applied even if there is no infection.

Eye care and recovery after corneal transplant

Most of the people can return to work within several days after the surgery if necessary, but they should be prohibited from heavy exercise and lifting during the first few weeks. Patients should also protect eyes from external objects, since their eyes are fragile during the recovery period. The doctor will probably prescribe steroid eye drops to help the patient recover. The whole recovery process can last as long as a year. For those with slow healing speed, stitches may be removed after 17 months.

Prescription eyewear helps correct the implanted cornea

Since the curve of the implanted cornea can not match exactly the curve of the existing cornea, corrective glasses are needed after a cornea transplant. And the vision will be stable when the healing process is finished, after which the eyewear’s prescription can be accurately determined. Most doctors recommend rigid gas permeable contact lenses for patients after a cornea transplant, since the cornea’s surface may be slightly affected.