What is the cornea?
The cornea is the clear tendon in the front of the eye. The cornea covers the colored iris and the round pupil. Light is focused while passing through the cornea so we can see. To stay clear the cornea must be healthy.
How can an unhealthy cornea affect vision?
If the cornea is damaged it may become swollen or scarred. In either case, its smoothness and clarity may be lost. The scars, swelling or an irregular shape cause the cornea to scatter or distort light, resulting in glare or blurred vision.
If the cornea is causing vision loss that cannot be corrected with spectacles or contact lenses, corneal transplants can be performed, replacing the damaged corneal tissue.
What is a corneal transplant?
Cornea transplant are the most common and successful transplants performed. These transplants are done more than 40,000 times per year in this country. Because the cornea is devoid of blood vessels, the risk of rejection is dramatically reduced. This low risk of rejection means that patients are not required to take strong medications to suppress the immune system. Most cornea transplant patients are able to take a few eye drops a day and prevent rejection.
The corneal tissue is screened very carefully for quality prior to transplantation. The tissue is also evaluated to insure that it does not pose a risk for infection. Patient history and extensive blood work are performed to insure that there is not a risk for HIV, Hepatitis, or spongiform diseases. The risk of contracting an infectious diseases from corneal transplantation is very very rare.
The tissue is donated from a patient that has passed on. We have an excellent relationship with our eye-bank, and are able to schedule surgery without a wait for tissue. The surgery is usually scheduled 3-4 weeks after the evaluation.
Cornea transplant surgery is performed as an out-patient procedure. Patients may choose either local or general anesthesia. The surgery takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. Most often 80% of the cornea is removed and replaced with the transplanted tissue. The transplanted tissue is sewn to the eye using fine suture material that is thinner than a human hair. Cataract surgery or other necessary interventions in the front of the eye can be done at the time of the transplant if necessary. We have the most advanced cornea instrumentation available. We have done hundreds of corneal transplants, and our staff is very experienced with this procedure.
The recovery period is variable. Most patients experience foreign body sensation, tearing, light sensitivity for up to two weeks. The most important feature after corneal transplantation is patience. Because the cornea is devoid of blood vessels it can take up to two months before the new prescription for glasses can be given. Rarely, for some patients it can take 9-12 months before excellent vision is restored. You will be seen about every two weeks, for the first two months after surgery
Corneal transplantation carries the same risks as for other eye surgery including – bleeding, infection and retinal detachment. These risks are low with our current surgical technology and experience. In addition there is often a significant refractive error after surgery. This results form the fact that the donor tissue curvature cannot be matched with the recipient curvature. This disparity can lead to a strong need for glasses or contact lenses.
Corneal transplantation in its modern form is very successful. If you have any questions please feel free to contact our office.