A cornea transplant, also known as a corneal graft or keratoplasty, is an eye operation in which all or part of a damaged cornea is removed and replaced with healthy donor cornea.
What is a cornea?
Your cornea is clear tissue, made up of layers of cells, at the front of your eyeball. A healthy cornea allows light to pass into your eye and helps light focus on your retina (the light-sensitive film at the back of the eye) so that you can see images.
What causes cornea problems?
Diseases or injury can make your cornea either cloudy, damaged or out of shape and this prevents the normal passage of light and inability to focus properly causing blurry vision and glare.
A cornea eye can be caused by:
• Keratoconus – thinning of your cornea causes it to become cone-shaped rather than dome-shaped and results in blurred vision.
• Fuchs’ dystrophy – swollen and cloudy cornea caused by ageing cells in the inner layer of your cornea not working effectively.
• Eye infection or injury – causing inflammation and cornea scarring. Infection may also cause corneal ulcers. A scratched cornea or corneal abrasion is one of the most common eye injuries that results in disrupted or lost cornea cells and may cause a red, painful, watering eye and blurred vision.
• Complications from previous corneal or eye surgery.
What are the benefits of the cornea transplant?
The benefits of cornea transplant eye surgery are:
• Improved or restored sight
• Pain relief
• Treatment of severe eye infection
• Enhanced appearance of a damaged or diseased cornea.
What does the operation of a cornea transplant involve?
There are three main types of cornea transplant:
• Penetrating keratoplasty (PK) or full thickness cornea transplant – your entire cornea is replaced if both the front and inner corneal layers are damaged.
• Deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK) or partial thickness corneal transplant – only the damaged outer and middle layers of the cornea are replaced. Commonly used to treat keratoconus or bulging of the cornea.
• Endothelial keratoplasty (EK) – the innermost layer of your cornea called the endothelium is replaced.
Your eye surgeon will decide which type of cornea transplant is best for you based on which part of your cornea is damaged or how much of your cornea needs replacing.
A corneal transplant can be carried out under general or local anaesthetic. In most cases, a cornea transplant procedure lasts less than an hour.
If the outer layer of your cornea is being replaced, your new outer cornea will be held in place with stitches. If you are having an endothelial transplant you won’t require stitches.
What complications can happen after the cornea transplant?
As with all types of surgery, there is a risk of complications following a cornea transplant eye operation.
Complications can include:
• Rejection of your new cornea by your body
• Further vision problems.
What is the cost of a cornea transplant?
If you decide to pay for your treatment, Ramsay offer an all-inclusive Total Care package, where a single one-off payment at a pre-agreed price, delivering direct access to all the treatment you need for complete reassurance. You can also spread the cost of your treatment with finance options available.
A cornea transplant may be covered by your medical insurance policy. We advise you to check directly with your insurance provider and get written confirmation before commencing treatment.
How soon will I recover after a corneal transplant?
The recovery time for a cornea transplant will depend on the type of transplant you have.
If you have a full thickness cornea transplant then the healing process is relatively slow. It can take up to 18 months before you can enjoy the best vision. During this recovery period glasses or contact lenses may help you to see better.
If just the outer and middle layers (DALK) are being replaced, your recovery will be quicker than if the entire cornea is replaced. Endothelial transplants (EK) tend to have the fastest recovery times of just weeks or months.
You should take care of your eye whilst recovering. This includes not rubbing it and, abstaining from activities such as contact sports and swimming until you're advised that it's safe to do so.
Cornea transplant with Ramsay Health Care
At Ramsay we have highly skilled and experienced ophthalmologic surgeons who regularly perform corneal transplants. We offer convenient appointments for you with your surgeon, to discuss in detail the best type of eye surgery for your individual needs and, to fully answer any questions you may have.