A cornea transplant is an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea and replace it with healthy donor tissue.
A cornea transplant is often referred to as keratoplasty or a corneal graft. It can be used to improve sight, relieve pain and treat severe infection or damage. One of the most common reasons for a cornea transplant is a condition called keratoconus, which causes the cornea to change shape.
The type of cornea transplant you have will depend on which part of the cornea is damaged and how much of the cornea needs replacing. The options include:
- Penetrating Keratoplasty (PK) – a full-thickness transplant
- Superficial Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty (SALK)
- Deep Anterior Lamellar Keratoplasty (DALK)
- Endothelial keratoplasty (EK) – replacing the deeper (back) layers of the cornea
A cornea transplant can be carried out under general or local anaesthetic. The procedure usually takes less than an hour and depending on your circumstances; you can either leave the hospital the same day or stay overnight.
If the procedure involves the transplantation of the outer cornea, the new outer cornea is held in place with stitches, which usually stay in for at least12 months.
An endothelial transplant doesn’t require stitches. It’s held in place by an air bubble until a few days later when it naturally sticks to the deep layer of the cornea.
In most cases, a cornea transplant procedure lasts less than an hour.
After a cornea transplant
The recovery time for a cornea transplant depends on the type of transplant you have. It takes about 18 months to enjoy the final results of a full-thickness transplant, although it’s usually possible to provide glasses or a contact lens much earlier.
Recovery is usually faster after replacing just the outer and middle layers (DALK). Endothelial transplants (EK) tend to have a faster recovery time of months or even weeks.
It’s essential to take good care of your eye to improve your chances of a good recovery. You should not rub your eye and avoid activities such as contact sports and swimming until we tell you it’s safe.
Are there any risks involved in cornea transplant surgery?
As with all types of surgery, there is a risk of complications. These can include the new cornea being rejected by the body, infection and further vision problems.
Around 95% of full-thickness cornea transplants in low-risk conditions such as keratoconus, last a minimum of 10 years.