Corneal transplant surgery

Who requires corneal transplant surgery?

The cornea is the transparent, dome-shaped outer layer at the front of your eye, through which light passes through. Sometimes the cornea can become diseased, affecting your vision. This may be because:

  • The surface of the cornea has become cone-shaped, causing blurred vision
  • The cornea has stopped working properly and has become swollen and cloudy. This may happen after cataract surgery or Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy (an ageing process) 
  • You have a severe infection that has caused inflammation
  • Your surgeon has recommended surgery, which, if successful, will improve your vision.

Are there any alternatives to a corneal transplant?

Different types of glasses and contact lenses may help or laser treatment may be suitable, however these measures become less effective as the disease gets worse. If your cornea is already diseased and scarred, your vision won’t improve without surgery.

What happens during corneal transplant surgery?

Your surgeon will remove the centre part of your diseased cornea and replace either part of all of it with a donor cornea. Your surgeon will use small stitches to hold the new piece in place. After the operation you will have a clear window for light to enter your eye so that you can see more clearly. However, the healing process is slow and it may take more than a year before you have the best vision in your eye.

For more information, and if you have any queries about the procedure, speak to your consultant.

Continue your normal medication unless you are told otherwise.

The following lifestyle changes can help make the procedure a success:

  • Giving up smoking
  • Eating healthily. If overweight, you have a greater chance of developing complications
  • Exercising regularly. Your GP can recommend exercises.

Possible complications:*

  • Some pain is common with all operations
  • Bleeding on the outside of your eye after surgery
  • Infection, which can result in blurred vision or even permanent loss of vision 
  • Severe bleeding inside the eye during surgery, which may cause permanent loss of vision 
  • Inflammation in the other eye. This is a potentially serious complication, which may be treatable
  • Fluid in the eye may leak out where the stitches have been placed. You may need more stitches or to wear a special bandage until the leak stops 
  • Increased eye pressure, which can be controlled with medication
  • Failure of the transplant if your eye rejects the donor cornea – you will need treatment. The transplant can also fail if the disease comes back 
  • Transferring infection from the donor. The tissue will be tested for infectious diseases to try to reduce the risk of this happening.

*This is not a definitive list and symptoms will vary with each patient. Please ask your doctor for more information.

What's involved in the recovery?

You should be able to go home the same or following day. Remember, you won’t be able to drive after the operation. You will be given eye drops and possibly medication to take home.

For the first four to six weeks avoid swimming as this will expose your eye to infection. Regular exercise should help your recovery – ask your GP for advice.  You should go to your optometrist (optician) for an eye test two to three months after your operation as you will usually need new glasses.

Do not drive until you can read a number plate from 20.5m (67 ft).  It may take up to a year for your vision to improve. You may need to have another operation to change the shape of the cornea. You will need to go to the clinic regularly so your surgeon can check that the transplant is healing well and for signs of rejection.

Rejection of the transplant can happen at any time after surgery and must be treated within hours. If you develop pain, blurred vision, or your eye becomes red, watery and sensitive to light, contact the hospital straightaway.

For more information including recovery times, speak to your consultant.

Paying for your operation

The costs of this surgery are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own procedure the cost will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the procedure. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.

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