The cornea is normally a clear layer of tissue covering the front of the eye, similar to a watch crystal. Its purpose is to refract or bend light rays as they enter the eye, allowing them to focus on the retina. In cases where the cornea has become clouded as a result of disease, swelling, scarring, infection, or chemical burns, a corneal transplant (also called keratoplasty) is sometimes necessary to restore functional vision. For this procedure, the surgeon carefully removes the central corneal tissue and replaces it with a precisely shaped replica of donor tissue.
The success rate of corneal transplant is about 85%. However, factors such as glaucoma, retinal degeneration, or optic nerve disease may affect the final visual result even if the surgery is successful.
The procedure usually takes approximately one hour and is performed with local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. After the surgery, a plastic shield or glasses should be worn at all times to avoid accidentally rubbing, bumping or hitting the eye. Drops are prescribed to prevent rejection of the donor cornea.
During the postoperative period, the surgeon monitors the cornea’s healing with special computer mapping called corneal topography. This allows the doctor to evaluate the shape of the new cornea and remove sutures as needed to control astigmatism.
In most cases, vision returns very gradually. The healing process may vary greatly from one individual to the next. Some may enjoy improved vision within a few months after surgery, for others, it may take up to a year.
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