Corneal transplant is a surgical procedure used to replace a portion of a diseased or damaged cornea with a healthy one. The cornea is the clear, outer surface on the front of the eye.
A corneal transplant can correct vision problems caused by infections, injuries, or medical conditions that affect the cornea. It is often recommended for the following:
The procedure is usually highly successful. Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications, such as:
The operation is most successful for those who have the following:
It is less successful for those who have corneal infection and severe injury, like a chemical burn.
Your ophthalmologist may do a physical exam and blood tests.
Before the procedure:
2 types of anesthesia can be used during a corneal transplant:
The procedure will be done under a surgical microscope. The damaged part of the cornea will be cut out. The new cornea will then be placed in the opening. The new cornea will be fastened with very fine stitches. Finally, a patch and shield will be put over the eye.
There is another technique called Descemets stripping endothelial keratoplasty (DSEK). DSEK is used for some types of cornea transplants. It may result in shorter recovery time and better vision. With this technique, the doctor removes a much smaller part of the cornea, compared with older procedures.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You will most likely go home after a few hours in the recovery area.
Recovery at home includes pain management and avoiding certain activities until the eye heals. Other recovery steps may include:
Vision may initially be worse than before your surgery before your eye adjusts to the new cornea. It may take several months for it to improve. Stitches are usually left in place for several months. Regular follow-up visits will allow the doctor to monitor how the eye is healing. Do not drive until your doctor says you can.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Eye Bank Association of America
National Keratoconus Foundation
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Canadian Ophthalmological Society
Corneal transplants. National Keratoconus Foundation website. Available at: http://www.nkcf.org/corneal-transplants. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Facts about the cornea and corneal disease. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cornealdisease. Updated May 2013. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Frequently asked questions. Eye Bank Association of America website. Available at: http://restoresight.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Frequently-Asked-Questions.pdf. Accessed December 14, 2017.
Williams K, Irani Y, Klebe S. Novel therapeutic approaches for corneal disease. Discov Med. 2013 May;15(84):291-9. Available at: http://www.discoverymedicine.com/Keryn-A-Williams/2013/05/24/novel-therapeutic-approaches-for-corneal-disease/.. Accessed January 3, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/20/2014