What Happens During Corneal Transplant Surgery?

What Happens During Corneal Transplant Surgery?

March 28th, 2024

Corneal transplant surgery is a vision-saving procedure. It’s considered one of the most successful transplant procedures, and eye surgeons perform over 400,000 corneal transplants each year.

If you have a health condition or injury and have been told you need a corneal transplant, you may have questions about what to expect. Read on to learn more about what happens during corneal transplant surgery. 

What is the Cornea? 

The cornea is the clear front layer of the eye. It protects the inner structures of the eye from debris, germs, and other damaging materials. The cornea also directs light to the parts of the eye that work with the brain to create eyesight.

The cornea comprises six layers, all of which play a role in vision and eye health. If the cornea is damaged or the shape becomes distorted, it can affect your vision.

What Eye Conditions Require a Corneal Transplant 

Corneal transplant is not an elective procedure like vision correction surgery. It’s performed when truly necessary due to certain health conditions or significant injury to your cornea. Reasons for corneal transplant include: 

  • Keratoconus, a condition that causes the cornea to bulge outward
  • Fuchs dystrophy, a genetic condition that causes fluid buildup, damaging the cornea 
  • Corneal thinning or tearing
  • Cornea scarring due to infection or injury
  • Severe swelling of the cornea
  • Corneal ulcers that do not get better with medical treatment

What Happens During the Corneal Transplant Procedure

During a corneal transplant, your eye doctor at Laser Eye Center in Huntsville, AL, removes a portion of the cornea and replaces it with donor tissue. Donor tissue is donated by someone who has passed away and agreed to donate their organs. 

There are two types of corneal transplant procedures:

Full Thickness

In a full thickness corneal transplant, your eye doctor creates a small opening in all six layers of the cornea and lifts out the affected tissue. The entire affected section is replaced with donor tissue.

Partial Thickness

In some cases, only specific layers of the cornea need to be replaced. Your eye doctor can remove either the back layers of the cornea or the layers at the surface and replace them with donor tissue. 

Partial thickness transplants are more complicated to perform. However, they have a lower risk of side effects such as donor tissue rejection.

What to Expect From Your Corneal Transplant Procedure

Your eye doctor will discuss your anesthesia options with you before your procedure. If you need to be under general anesthesia, your eye doctor will give you instructions about eating, drinking, or taking medicine before surgery.

During the procedure, your eye doctor will use specialized tools to remove the affected portion of your cornea. They will then place the donor tissue onto the transplant site. 

With a full thickness transplant or a transplant of the outer layer, your doctor will use tiny sutures to attach the new tissue. These sutures may not be necessary when transplanting the inner layers of the cornea. 

The procedure usually takes under two hours, and you can go home the same day. After surgery, you will need to wear an eye shield and take any medications or eye drops that your eye doctor prescribes. 

Recovery from a corneal transplant takes several weeks. Your eye doctor will help you determine when you can return to work and other activities. 

Are you interested in learning more about corneal transplant surgery? Schedule an appointment at Laser Eye Center in Huntsville, AL, today!