93544575.jpgThe cornea is the dome-shaped clear protective barrier of the eye. It keeps germs, dust and other harmful particles from entering the eye, and also helps filter out some of the sun's ultraviolet rays. The cornea has five layers and plays a major role in vision.

Unfortunately, it can become damaged due to infection, injury, illness, or complications from laser vision corrective surgeries like LASIK. As a result, vision problems occur. Corneal transplant surgery, also known as keratoplasty, is a highly successful procedure. It can restore vision and relieve pain.

What to Expect

The first step to beginning a corneal transplant is to be put on a waiting list at a local eye bank for a donor eye. Because the United States has a very refined donor system, this generally only takes a couple of weeks. Following a few tests on the donor eye to ensure optimal health and clarity of the eye, you will be prepped for surgery.

A corneal transplant is routinely performed on an outpatient basis and only requires a local anesthetic (numbing eye drops). You may also be given a sedative to help you relax. The most common type of corneal transplant is penetrating keratoplasty. Once the eye is numb, your doctor will carefully remove a button-shaped section of tissue from your cornea and replace it with an identically button-shaped section from the donor eye. The entire surgery can take up to two hours.


You will wear a protective shield over the eye until it is fully healed. Recovering from a corneal transplant can take up to a year. Heavy exercise and/or lifting should be avoided for quite a few weeks following surgery. You will be prescribed eye drops and/or oral medicines to prevent infection, pain and swelling. Depending on how well your eye is healing, your stitches will be removed three to 17 months after the surgery.

Possible Complications

While the success rate for corneal transplants is high, there are some complications to consider. It is important to remember the four warning signs to prevent corneal transplant rejection:

  • Redness
  • Intense sensitivity to light
  • Decreased vision
  • Pain

If you experience any of the symptoms above after your surgery, even up to several years following your surgery, please contact us immediately. There are medications available to help reverse the rejection process.

In the event that the donor transplant does fail, you can receive another corneal transplant; however, the rejection rate only increases with the number of transplants you have.

After Recovery

Your vision will progressively improve up to one year after your surgery. Glasses or contact lenses will still be necessary to correct nearsightedness and astigmatism. You should wait until your stitches are removed before you fill an eyeglass or contact lens prescription because your vision will change for the first few months post-surgery.

Once your eye has completely healed, laser vision corrective surgery may be performed to help improve your vision and reduce your dependency on glasses or contact lenses.