A cornea transplant is an operation to remove all or part of a damaged cornea and replace it with healthydonor tissue.

A cornea transplant is often referred to as keratoplasty or acorneal 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.

It acts as a window to the eye. The coloured iris and the pupil (the black dot in the centre of the iris) can be seen through the cornea.

The cornea helps to focus light rays on to the retina (the light-sensitive film at the back of the eye). This "picture" is then transmitted to the brain.

When the cornea is damaged, it can become less transparent or its shape can change. This can prevent light reaching the retina and causes the picture transmitted to the brain to be distorted or unclear.

How is a transplant carried out?

The type of cornea transplant you have will depend on which part of the cornea is damaged or how much of the cornea needs replacing. The options include:

  • penetrating keratoplasty (PK) a full-thickness transplant
  • deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK) replacing or reshaping the outer and middle (front) layers of the cornea
  • endothelial keratoplasty (EK) replacing thedeeper (back) layers of the cornea

A cornea transplant can be carried out under general anaesthetic (where you are unconscious) or Local anaesthetic (where the area is numbed and you're awake). The procedure usually takes less than an hour and, depending on your circumstances, you either leave hospital the same day or stay overnight.

Ifthe procedure involves the transplantation of the outer cornea,the new outer cornea is held in place with stitches, which usually stay in formore than12 months.

An endothelial transplant (EK) doesn't require stitches.It's held in place by an air bubble until a few days later, whenit naturally sticks to the deep layer of the cornea.

In most cases, a cornea transplant procedure lasts less than an hour.

These can includethe new cornea being rejected by the body, infection and further vision problems.

Around 95% of full-thickness (penetrating) cornea transplants in low-risk conditions, such as keratoconus, last at least10 years.

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 justthe outer and middle layers (DALK). Endothelial transplants (EK) tend to have a faster recovery time of months or evenweeks.

It's important to take good care of your eye to improve your chances of a good recovery. Thismeans not rubbing your eye and avoiding activitiessuch ascontact sports and swimming until you're told it's safe.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 20 Jan 2017