The eyes are intricate body parts with numerous structures. The cornea is a transparent surface that is located at the front of the eye. Corneal transplant surgery is a procedure (keratoplasty, or KP) in which the central part of the cornea is removed. To take its place, the surgeon inserts a small piece of healthy, clear corneal tissue from an eye bank.
We don’t hear much about corneal transplants on a regular basis. However, the National Eye Institute reports that approximately 40,000 of these procedures are performed in our country each year. The success rate of this procedure is quite high, between 95- and 99% up to ten years after surgery.
Why Corneal transplants are Performed
A common reason for corneal transplant surgery is to repair damage or scarring to this part of the eye that, without treatment, may lead to uncorrectable vision problems later on. The visual distortions that originate from a damaged cornea cannot be corrected with contact lenses or eyeglasses, or even with LASIK or other refractive surgery.
Degeneration of the cornea is another reason why corneal transplant may be necessary. Keratoconus is a degenerative disease in which the cornea becomes thin and starts to protrude forward in a cone shape. Mild cases of keratoconus may be managed with rigid, gas permeable contact lenses that inhibit this curvature. However, if the disease advances, the cornea will need to be replaced.
Corneal Transplant Procedure
Corneal transplants are usually performed as outpatient surgery. A thorough medical exam and health history helps us determine which type of anesthesia would be most appropriate: local or general. We discuss this detail before surgery, so patients know what to expect.
After an anesthetic has been administered, keratoplasty begins with a laser “cut” or a small incision using an instrument called a trephine. A small round section of corneal tissue is removed, and then the healthy new corneal tissue is inserted in its place. This tissue is secured with ultra-fine sutures that are imperceptible in the eye.
What to Expect After Corneal Transplant
Recovery from keratoplasty surgery can last up to one year. During that time, glasses or a shield are worn to protect the eye. Eye drops are also used to encourage acceptance of the new tissue. It is not uncommon for vision to feel somewhat blurry and for the eye to be inflamed. However, this usually is more a nuisance than entirely uncomfortable.
Due to the changes in corneal shape after transplant surgery, a person’s prescription lenses may fluctuate for several months as tissue heals. Once it is ok to wear contact lenses, we may suggest the rigid, gas permeable type to achieve the sharpest vision. It may even be possible to undergo LASIK or other refractive surgery to improve vision after the new cornea has completely healed.
Central Florida Eye Institute can help you address your vision concerns in a friendly, professional environment. Call (352) 237-8400 for assistance.