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What is a corneal transplant?

Almost everyone can give the beautiful gift of sight through eye/cornea donation. If the cornea, the clear dime-sized tissue that covers the front of the eye, becomes cloudy as a result of injury or disease, blindness can occur. Through cornea transplantation, the damaged cornea is replaced with a clear donor cornea and eyesight can be restored.
Eye donations are also used in surgeries to reconstruct the orbit when a prosthetic eye is the only option and for medical studies to discover treatments and cures of blinding eye diseases. Recipients of donor eye tissue range in age from newborns through adulthood. Unlike solid organ donation, a history of cancer does not automatically rule out eye donation. Donor tissue that cannot be used for transplant can, with consent, be used for medical education and research purposes. The only substitute for a human cornea is another human cornea donated at death by someone who thus leaves a living legacy. Eye donation should not prevent having an open casket service.

A corneal transplant involves replacing a diseased or scarred cornea with a new one. When the cornea becomes cloudy, light cannot penetrate the eye to reach the light-sensitive retina. Poor vision or blindness may result.

In corneal transplant surgery, the surgeon removes the central portion of the cloudy cornea and replaces it with a clear cornea, usually from an eye bank. A trephine, an instrument like a cookie cutter, is used to remove the cloudy cornea. The surgeon places the new cornea in the opening and sews it with a very fine thread. The thread stays in for months or even years, until the eye heals properly (removing the thread is quite simple and can easily be done in an ophthalmologist's office). Following surgery, eyedrops are needed for several months to help promote healing.

Corneal transplants are very common in the United States; about 40,000 are performed each year. The chances of success of this operation have risen dramatically because of technological advances, such as less irritating sutures, or threads, which are often finer than a human hair, and the surgical microscope. Corneal transplantation has restored sight to many, who a generation ago would have been blinded permanently if they had corneal injury, infection, or inherited corneal disease or degeneration.

This answer is based on source information from National Eye Institute.

A traditional corneal transplant replaces the entire full thickness cornea with a cornea from a donor, and it generally takes up to a year or more for a patient’s vision to be restored, leaving a larger wound 24 stitches, and a potential weak spot in the eye, vulnerable to further damage from a fall or other trauma.
Corneal transplantation, which replaces a person's damaged cornea with donor corneal tissue, is the most common and most successful type of human transplant surgery. The cornea -- the clear tissue that forms the front of the eye -- can become diseased, affecting vision and requiring transplantation as a result of a variety of conditions, including progressive distortion in the shape of the cornea (keratoconus), scarring secondary to infection or injury, and inherited dysfunction of the cornea’s inner layer, leading to corneal swelling (Fuchs’ dystrophy).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.